Pharmacologic Strategies for the Prevention of Stroke in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation
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Stroke is a dreaded complication of atrial fibrillation. In the past, preventive therapy included aspirin and oral anticoagulation. Selected patients who are not suitable for oral anticoagulation may benefit from the addition of clopidogrel with aspirin. This combination, when compared with aspirin, offers a reduced risk of stroke at a cost of more major bleeding. We use this therapy in patients with atrial fibrillation who have unstable coronary syndromes or in patients who receive coronary artery stents who are not good candidates for “triple therapy” with aspirin, clopidogrel, and warfarin. The duration of therapy is tempered by many variables. In the case of coronary stents, we ask the interventionalist to consider a bare metal stent to shorten the duration of need for clopidogrel plus aspirin. After several months of combination therapy, we stop this therapy and begin warfarin therapy. Dabigatran is commercially available in the United States. In patients who have difficult to control International Normalized Ratio (INR) values or who do not wish to have regular coagulation monitoring, dabigatran offers a huge advantage. The benefit seems less if the INR is consistently within range. We are impressed with the superior reduction in stroke and systemic embolism with 150 mg of dabigatran twice daily compared to warfarin and also its low risk of intracranial hemorrhage. The results of clinical trials involving factor Xa agents are now being presented. How these agents fit into the marketplace remains to be seen but they will offer clinicians additional therapy for stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation.