Reasons for undertreatment with oral anticoagulants in frail geriatric outpatients with atrial fibrillation: A prospective, descriptive study

Linda R. Tulner, Jos P.C.M. Van Campen, Ingeborg M.J.A. Kuper, George J.P.T. Gijsen, Cornelis H.W. Koks, Melvin R. Mac Gillavry, Harm Van Tinteren, Jos H. Beijnen, Desiderius P.M. Brandjes

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Objectives: The main aims of the study were to explore whether oral anticoagulation (OAC) for atrial fibrillation (AF) in geriatric outpatients is prescribed in accordance with international (American College of Cardiology/ American Heart Association/European Society of Cardiology [ACC/AHA/ ESC]) and Dutch national guidelines for the general practitioner (GP) and to identify whether age and selected co-morbid conditions are associated with undertreatment. As a secondary objective, we wanted to establish how many patients discontinue OAC because of major bleeding. Methods: In 2004, at the first visit of all patients to the geriatric day clinic of the Slotervaart Hospital in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, demographic data, Mini- Mental State Examination score, medical history, Charlson Comorbidity Index score, and data on medication use and changes were documented. The presence of AF was established by assessment of medical history information obtained by the GP, the history taken from patients and their caregivers, and the results of clinical evaluation, including ECG findings. Associations between the use of OAC, demographic data and co-morbid conditions registered in the Dutch NHG (Nederlands Huisartsen Genootschap [Dutch College of General Practitioners] standard for GPs as risk factors for stroke or contraindications to the use of OAC were analysed. The reasons for discontinuing OAC were assessed after 4 years by requesting the information from the anticoagulation services or the GP. Results: At the time of the initial visit, 17.5% of the 807 outpatients had chronic AF (n = 135) or were known to have paroxysmal AF (n = 6). The mean age of the 141 patients in this cohort was 84.3 years (SD 6.2 years). Co-morbid conditions increasing the risk of stroke were present in 129 patients (91.5%). Contraindications to the use of OAC were observed in 118 patients (83.7%). Of the 116 patients with AF in their history before their visit, 57.8% were being treated with OAC at the time of their visit. After comprehensive geriatric assessment, 73 (51.8%) of the 141 patients with chronic or paroxysmal AF were continued on OAC. Of the 141 patients with chronic or paroxysmal AF, 110 (78.0%) had both extra stroke risk factors and contraindications to the use of OAC. Only increasing age was significantly and independently associated with not being prescribed anticoagulants (p < 0.001). At the 4-year follow-up, OAC had been discontinued in 5.5% of patients because of major bleeding; three patients (4.1%) taking OAC had died as a result of major bleeding, and one other patient had discontinued treatment because of a major, non-lethal bleeding episode. Conclusion: Applying the NHG standard for appropriate prescription, and disregarding age as a risk factor or contraindication, in this population, 14 of 141 patients (9.9%) were inappropriately prescribed OAC, salicylates or no prophylaxis. Since only patient age was associated with not prescribing OAC in this study, higher age still seems to be considered the most important contraindication to anticoagulation therapy. Implementation of better models for stratifying bleeding risk in the frail elderly is needed. After 4 years, the cumulative rate of bleeding causing discontinuation of anticoagulation therapy in this usual-care study of frail older patients was not alarmingly higher than in other usual-care studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-50
Number of pages12
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Anticoagulants, therapeutic use
  • Drug-utilisation
  • Elderly
  • Prescribing


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