Mortality after ground-level fall in the elderly patient taking oral anticoagulation for atrial fibrillation/flutter: a long-term analysis of risk versus benefit

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2014 Mar;76(3):642-9; discussion 649-50. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000000138.


Background: Elderly patients with atrial fibrillation or flutter who experience ground-level falls are at risk for lethal head injuries. Patients on oral anticoagulation (OAC) for thromboprophylaxis may be at higher risk for these head injuries. Trauma surgeons treating these patients face a difficult choice: (1) continue OAC to minimize stroke risk while increasing the risk of a lethal head injury or (2) discontinue OAC to avoid intracranial hemorrhage while increasing the risk of stroke. To inform this choice, we conducted a retrospective cohort study to assess long-term outcomes and risk factors for mortality after presentation with a ground-level fall among patients with and without OAC.

Methods: Retrospective analysis of the longitudinal version of the California Office of Statewide Planning and Development database was performed for years 1995 to 2009. Elderly anticoagulated patients (age > 65 years) with known atrial fibrillation or flutter who fell were stratified by CHA2DS2-VASc score and compared with a nonanticoagulated control cohort. Multivariable logistic regression including patient demographics, stroke risk, injury severity, and hospital type identified risk factors for mortality.

Results: A total of 377,873 patient records met the inclusion criteria, 42,913 on OAC and 334,960 controls. The mean age was 82.4 and 80.6 years, respectively. Most were female, with CHA2DS2-VASc scores between 3 and 5. Mortality among OAC patients after a first fall was 6%, compared with 3.1% among non-OAC patients. Patients dying with a head injury constituted 31.6% of deaths within OAC patients compared with 23.8% among controls. Risk of eventual death with head injury exceeded annualized stroke risk for patients with CHA2DS2-VASc scores of 0 to 2. Predictors for mortality with head injury on the first admission included male sex, Asian ethnicity, a history of stroke, and trauma center admission.

Conclusion: Elderly patients on OAC for atrial fibrillation and/or flutter who fall have a greater risk for mortality compared with controls. Patients with low CHA2DS2-VASc scores (0-3) at high risk for falls with identified risk factors should speak to their prescribing physicians regarding the risk/benefits of continued use of OAC.

Level of evidence: Epidemiologic/prognostic study, level III.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / mortality*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticoagulants / adverse effects*
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy*
  • Atrial Flutter / drug therapy
  • California / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / mortality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / prevention & control


  • Anticoagulants