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Underutilization of Warfarin Therapy in Elderly Patients with Atrial Fibrillation Fear or False Sense of Security!

Background: Under utilization of warfarin in elderly patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) has been recognized as a significant health care issue. This study examines the rate and reasons for warfarin underutilization in elderly patients with AF at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Methods: Retrospective study reviewing electronic medical records of all patients aged 65 and older with the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.  Patients on warfarin were excluded. Reasons for not using warfarin were extracted by reviewing the electronic medical record. Anticoagulation indications for these patients were determined based on the ACC/AHA/ESC 2006 Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Atrial Fibrillation.

Results:Warfarin was not used by 407 patients (25%) with known AF. Average age was 79+6.2 years. 60% of patients had persistent or permanent AF. Prevalence of risk factors for thromboembolism included hypertension (74%), heart failure or ejection fraction of <40% (21%), diabetes (27%) and coronary artery disease (48%). CHADS (2) scores were documented in the charts less than 1% of the times. Only 11 patients had CHADS (2) score of 0 and 70 had a score of 1. A class I or IIa indication for warfarin therapy was present in 298 (73%) of patients. Return to sinus rhythm (37%) was the most common reason for not using warfarin. In 30% of cases the reason not to use warfarin was not addressed. Other reasons not to use warfarin included fear of falls (7%), prior head or GI bleed (14%), patient refusal & noncompliance (12%). History of CVA or TIA was documented in 12% of patients.

Conclusions:Underutilization of warfarin in elderly patients with atrial fibrillation remains a common problem despite their high risk for thromboembolic events. A false sense of security about the paroxysmal nature of AF, lack of proper insight about stroke risk (CHADS (2)), and fear of bleeding are the most common reasons for non use of warfarin.

Credits: Mazda Biria MD; Ahmad Batrash MD; Jayasree Piallarisetti MD; James Vacek MD; Loren Berenbom MD; Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD

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