Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the commonest sustained cardiac rhythm disorder associated with an increased risk of stroke and systemic embolic events. The prevention of stroke using oral anticoagulants has been a pivotal component of AF management. The purpose of this review is to summarize recent advances in the treatment and prevention of stroke in AF over the last 5 years. We performed a comprehensive structured literature search using MEDLINE for publications from 11th March 2015 through to 31st December 2020. We focused mainly on primarily published research articles and systematic reviews including updates in different international guidelines. We found that improved awareness and detection of AF and use of clinical risk stratification are central to the identification of patients at risk of stroke who would benefit from oral anticoagulation. The recommendation of non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulants over warfarin in both efficacy and safety perspective is represented in all international guidelines. Beyond stroke prevention, there is a move to more holistic or integrated care management of AF, which has been shown to improve outcomes. We conclude that stroke prevention remains a dominant part of the management of patients with AF. Not all stroke risk factors carry equal weight, and many require additional scrutiny (e.g. severity of CAD, type of diabetes, duration of hypertension). The utilization of clinical risk scores to help decision-making should take into account that these scores are mere simplification tools to aid decision-making and the additional clinical benefit with more complex risk scores and addition of biomarkers is limited. Also, stroke and bleeding risks are dynamic and require regular review. Instead of arbitrarily categorizing patients into (artificial) low, moderate, and high stroke risk strata, anticoagulation should be offered to all patients with AF unless they are low risk with no risk factors for stroke. Stroke prevention is also part of the proactive, integrated care approach to holistic management of patients with AF, which can be simplified in the ABC (Atrial fibrillation Better Care) pathway: ‘A’ Avoid stroke/Anticoagulation; ‘B’ Better symptom management emphasising patient-centred symptom directed decisions on rate or rhythm control strategies; and ‘C’ refers to Cardiovascular risk and comorbidity optimization, including lifestyle changes and attention to patient values and preferences, as well as the psychological morbidity associated with AF.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine