Guideline: People with Irregular Heartbeat Should Take Blood Thinners

The American Academy of Neurology has updated its guideline to recommend that people with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, take oral anticoagulants – a type of blood thinner pill – to prevent stroke.

The guideline, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has also been endorsed by the World Stroke Organization.

Taking anticoagulants is especially important for people who have already had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, which is a threatened stroke, according to a news release from the American Academy of Neurology. Irregular heartbeat is a major risk factor for stroke.

“The World Health Organization has determined that atrial fibrillation is nearing epidemic proportions, affecting 0.5 percent of the population worldwide,” said Dr. Antonio Culebras, lead author of the guideline and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

The uneven heart rhythm allows blood to remain in the heart’s upper chambers. The blood can then form clots. These may escape the heart and travel to the brain, causing a stroke.

About one in 20 people with untreated atrial fibrillation will likely have a stroke in the next year, the news release states. While anticoagulants can prevent stroke, they also carry a risk of bleeding. They should be used only under close medical supervision.

“Of course, doctors will need to consider the individual patient’s situation in making a decision whether or not to use anticoagulants, and which one to use, as the risks and benefits can vary for each person,” Culebras said.

Source: American Academy of Neurology news release

+ Learn about Bon Secours Primary Stroke Centers at Bon Secours DePaul Medical CenterBon Secours Maryview Medical Center and Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View, which have earned Primary Stroke Center certification from the Joint Commission on accreditation of health care organizations.

+ Read about lifestyle changes that you can make to help prevent stroke.

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