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Official Journal of the Italian Society of Angiology and Vascular Pathology
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Minerva Cardioangiologica 2004 April;52(2):125-40

language: English

Antithrombotic therapies for stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation

Economides Muñoz C., Singh B. N.


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Atrial fibrillation (AF) is now regarded as the arrhythmia for which patients are hospitalized the most frequently, an arrhythmia that is responsible for significant morbidity and mortality. Of particular importance is that the arrhythmia is associated with a significant incidence of thromboembolism which may induce disabling and incapacitating strokes, sometimes fatal. In the past, it was thought that in patients with AF restoration and maintenance of sinus rhythm prevent the development of strokes, a presumption that has not been vindicated by controlled clinical trials. On the other hand, over many decades, it has been established that appropriate anticoagulation especially with warfarin can reduce stroke rate in nonvalvular AF by about 70%, and mortality by 26%. Aspirin reduces stroke rate by 26%, mortality by about 10%. Thus, in AF oral anticoagulants have become the focal point of therapy for the prevention of strokes and the safety and efficacy of such a therapy has been established by controlled clinical trials; moreover, the subsets of patients with AF in whom anticoagulation is mandatory have been defined on the basis of defined risk factors. Warfarin is now the anticoagulant of choice although its limitations are considerable in terms of drug-drug interactions, narrow range of therapeutic index requiring strict monitoring of intensity of anticoagulation, among other limitations which influence compliance of therapy with the agent. In this review, the continuing role of warfarin in the prevention of stroke in patients with AF is discussed as a background for the development of newer anticoagulants. The issue is of particular importance in the older patients, in whom the development of safer antithrombotic therapies remain a major challenge. In this context, the potential role of the direct thrombin inhibitors hold promise for the future and the evolving data on leading compounds of this class which may be competitive with warfarin are discussed.

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