Background: Thromboprophylaxis with oral anticoagulants is an important but underused element of atrial fibrillation (AF) treatment. Reduction of stroke risk by anticoagulants comes at the price of bleeding risk. Patients with AF receiving anticoagulants require heightened attention with transition from one care setting to another.
Methods: This review of the literature focuses on issues specific to the anticoagulation treatment of patients with AF.
Results: Patients presenting for emergency care of anticoagulant-related bleeding should be triaged for the severity and source of the bleeding using appropriate measures, such as discontinuing the oral anticoagulant, administering vitamin K when appropriate to reverse warfarin-induced bleeding, or administering clotting factors for emergent bleeding. Reversal of oral anticoagulants in patients admitted to the hospital for surgery can be managed similarly to patients with bleeding, depending on the urgency of the surgical procedure. Patients with AF who are admitted for conditions unrelated to AF should be assessed for adequacy of stroke risk prophylaxis and bleeding risk. Newly diagnosed AF should be treated in nearly all patients with either warfarin or a newer anticoagulant.
Conclusions: Patient education is critically important with all anticoagulants. Close adherence to the prescribed regimen, regular international normalized ratio testing for warfarin, and understanding the stroke risk conferred by AF and aging are goals for all patients receiving oral anticoagulants. Detailed handoff from the hospitalist to the patient's primary care physician is required for good continuity of care. Monitoring by an anticoagulation clinic is the best arrangement for most patients. The elderly, particularly frail or debilitated patients who are transferring to long-term care, need a detailed transfer of information between settings, education for the patient and family, and medication reconciliation. Communication and coordination of care among outpatient, emergency, inpatient, subacute, and long-term care settings are vital in patients with AF who are receiving anticoagulants to balance stroke prevention and bleeding risk.
Keywords: Anticoagulant drugs; atrial fibrillation; hemorrhage; stroke.