Should my patient with atrial fibrillation on hemodialysis be anticoagulated?

Whether patients with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) and atrial fibrillation (AF) benefit from anticoagulation is a matter of controversy. 1,3 Although there may be some suggestion of benefit of warfarin for stroke prevention in this patient population, 2 there is also a higher concern for bleeding. 4-6 An increased risk of stroke among patients with ESKD and AF on warfarin has also been reported. 7

A 2018 Kidney Disease:Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) Controversies Conference concluded that there is “insufficient high-quality evidence” to recommend anticoagulation for prevention of stroke in patients with ESKD and atrial fibrillation. 8

However, the 2014 American College of Cardiology (ACC)/American Heart Association (AHA)/ Heart Rhythm (HRS) guideline states that it is reasonable to consider warfarin therapy in patients with ESKD and non-valvular AF with CHA2DS2 -VASc score of 2 or greater (Class IIa recommendation, level of evidence B).8 Of interest, the FDA recently approved the use of a direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC), apixaban, in ESKD potentially providing an alternative to the use of warfarin when anticoagulation is considered.10

Perhaps the decision to anticoagulate patients with ESKD for atrial fibrillation is best made on a case-by-case basis taking into account a variety of factors, including the risk of thromboembolic event, the risk of bleeding complications as well as patient preference.


1. Genovesi S, Vincenti A, Rossi E, et al. Atrial fibrillation and morbidity and mortality in a cohort of long-term hemodialysis patients. Am J Kidney Dis 2008;51:255-62.

2. Olesen JB, Lip GY, Kamper AL, et al. Stroke and bleeding in atrial fibrillation with chronic kidney disease. N Engl J Med 2012;367:625-35.

3. Shah M, Avgil TM, Jackevicius CA, et al. Warfarin use and the risk for stroke and bleeding in patients with atrial fibrillation undergoing dialysis. Circulation2014;129:1196-203.

4. Elliott MJ, Zimmerman D, Holden RM. Warfarin anticoagulation in hemodialysis patients: a systematic review of bleeding rates. Am J Kidney Dis 2007;50:433-40.

5. Holden RM, Harman GJ, Wang M, Holland D, Day AG. Major bleeding in hemodialysis patients. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 2008;3:105-10.

6. Wizemann V, Tong L, Satayathum S, et al. Atrial fibrillation in hemodialysis patients: clinical features and associations with anticoagulant therapy. Kidney Int 2010;77:1098-106.

7. Chan KE, Lazarus JM, Thadhani R, Hakim RM. Warfarin use associates with increased risk for stroke in hemodialysis patients with atrial fibrillation. J Am Soc Nephrol2009;20:2223-33.

8. Turakhia MP, Blankestijn PJ, Carrero J, et al. Chronic kidney disease and arrythias: conclusions from a Kidney Disease:Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) Controversies Conference. Eur Heart J, ehy060. Published 07 March 2018.

9. January CT, Wann LS, Alpert JS, et al. 2014 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for the management of patients with atrial fibrillation. Circulation 2014;130:2071-104. 

10. Moll S. Use of direct oral anticoagulants in patients on hemodialysis. Diffusion, October 11, 2017. 

Contributed by Brad Lander, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Should my patient with atrial fibrillation on hemodialysis be anticoagulated?