Although there may always be hesitation in resuming anticoagulation (AC) in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) and recent fall(s), the weight of the evidence suggests that most patients are still more likely to benefit from AC than be adversely impacted by intracranial hemorrhage.
An often-quoted systematic review article on the risks and benefits of anti-thrombotic (AC or aspirin) therapy in patients with NVAF at risk estimated that persons taking warfarin must fall 295 times in 1 year for warfarin to not be the optimal therapy for reducing the risk of stroke (1). The authors concluded that “a history of and/or the presence of risk factors for falls should not be considered important factors in the decision whether to offer antithrombotic (especially warfarin) therapy to elderly patients with atrial fibrillation”.
In another study involving older adults with NVAF, although a history of falls or documented high risk of falling was associated with a risk of intracranial hemorrhage, this risk did not differ among patients treated with warfarin, aspirin or no antithrombotic therapy (2).
Ultimately, the decision to prescribe AC in patients with NVAF at risk for falls should be made based on shared decision making with patients and caregivers. However, in the absence of absolute contraindications for AC in these patients (eg, intracranial hemorrhage or neurosurgical procedure with high risk for bleeding within the past 30 days, an intracranial neoplasm or vascular abnormality with high risk of bleeding, recurrent life-threatening gastrointestinal or other bleeding events, and severe bleeding disorders), perceived or actual risk of falls by itself should not automatically exempt a patient from receiving AC in NVAF (3).
Although much of the data on the relative risk of bleeding against prevention of strokes has been derived from studies involving warfarin, it is reassuring that the risk of intracranial bleed has been lower than that of warfarin for several newer non-vitamin K antagonist direct oral anticoagulants (NOACs or DOACs), including dabigatran, rivaroxaban, edoxaban and apixaban (4).
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1. Man-Son-Hing M, Nichol G, Lau A, et al. Choosing antithrombotic therapy for elderly patiets with atrial fibrillation who are at risk for falls. Arch Intern Med 1999;159:677-685.
2. Gage BF, Birman-Deych E, Kerzner R, et al. Incidence of intracranial hemorrhage in patients with atrial fibrillation who are prone to fall. Am J Med 2005;118:612-617.
3. Hagerty T, Rich MW. Fall risk and anticoagulation for atrial fibrillation in the elderly: a delicate balance. Clev Clin J 2017;84:35-40.
4. Lopez RD, Guimaraes PO, Kolls BJ, et al. Intracranial hemorrhage in patietns with atrial fibrillation receiving anticoagulation therapy. Blood 2017;129:2980-87.