Atrial fibrillation (AF) puts patients at risk of complications, including stroke. Warfarin therapy has been the mainstay of antithrombotic treatment for reducing the risk of stroke in AF. However, warfarin has limitations that have motivated development of several novel oral anticoagulants (NOACs), including dabigatran, rivaroxaban, apixaban, and edoxaban. Clinical trials demonstrate that the NOACs offer efficacy and safety that are equivalent to, or better than, those of warfarin for reducing the risk of stroke in patients with nonvalvular AF. This review examines stroke risk reduction in patients with AF from the perspective of the clinician balancing the risks and benefits of treatment options, evaluates the most recent guidelines, and discusses 2 hypothetical patient cases to better illustrate how clinicians may apply available data in the clinical setting. We reviewed guidelines for the reduction of stroke risk in AF and data from clinical trials on the NOACs. Choosing antithrombotic treatment involves assessing the benefits of therapy versus its risks. Risk indexes, including CHADS2, CHA2DS2-VASc, and HAS-BLED can help determine how to treat patients with AF. Current guidelines suggest using these risk indexes to customize treatment to individual patients. Many current treatment guidelines also incorporate recommendations for the use of NOACs as an alternative to warfarin. As additional data emerge and guidelines are updated, these recommendations will likely evolve. In the interim, clinicians may consider published guidelines and clinical trial results on NOACs. Real-world experience will provide clinicians with additional insight into their treatment decisions.
Keywords: Atrial fibrillation; Benefit; Guidelines; Risk; Stroke.