Oral Anticoagulation in Elderly Adults with Atrial Fibrillation: Integrating New Options with Old Concepts


Address correspondence to Ignatius Gerardo E. Zarraga, Division of Cardiology, Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 3710 SW US Veterans Hospital Road, Portland, OR 97239. E-mail: Ignatius.Zarraga@va.gov


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained cardiac arrhythmia and the second most common cardiovascular condition in adults in the United States. It is prevalent in the elderly population and is an important risk factor for stroke. Oral anticoagulation offers significant protection against AF-related thromboembolic events, but several complex issues that contribute to its underuse in elderly adults surround it. To aid clinicians in their approach to these problems, a comprehensive PubMed-based search of the literature published in English from 1990 through July 2012 was conducted using the following terms or combination of terms: atrial fibrillation, elderly, antiplatelet, anticoagulation, stroke, bleeding, hemorrhage, and falls. Additional references were identified in a manual search of bibliographies in retrieved articles. The data were then synthesized to address the most relevant questions regarding anticoagulation in elderly adults, including fall risk, responsiveness to warfarin, physician perception of risks, and other barriers to the prescription of anticoagulants. Recently proposed risk-stratification schemes for stroke and hemorrhage that could refine the selection of antithrombotic therapy for AF are highlighted. Finally, available data on the use of antiplatelet therapy, warfarin, and new oral anticoagulants (direct thrombin inhibitor and factor Xa inhibitors) in AF are summarized.