Patients at Low-Risk for Atrial Fibrillation Are Overprescribed Blood Thinners

Many patients with atrial fibrillation who lack an established risk factor for stroke are prescribed blood thinners despite guidelines recommending against their use in these low-risk patients.

Many patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who lack an established risk factor for stroke are prescribed blood thinners despite guidelines recommending against their use in these low-risk patients, according to recent study results. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed data from 2008 to 2012 on nearly 11,000 patients older than 60 years.

The research team found that about 25% of patients at the lowest risk for stroke were prescribed oral anticoagulants contrary to current guideline recommendations. Additionally, the researchers discovered that men with AF were more likely to be prescribed unnecessary blood thinners than women with AF. The study authors noted that their findings seemed to indicate that providers may not be fully aware of the risks associated with the use of these drugs, such as an increased bleeding risk, or the low risk of stroke among certain populations of AF patients.

“Practitioners who prescribe blood thinners need to be diligent about weighing the risks and benefits of these medications,” said lead author Jonathan C. Hsu, MD, in a press release. “In those patients with no risk factors for stroke, the risk of bleeding likely outweighs the benefit of stroke reduction. The fact that blood thinners were prescribed to so many patients with no risk factors for stroke is a wake-up call that we need to do better for our patients.”