Purpose: Inadequate anticoagulation among elderly individuals with atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common problem. This synthesis of the literature review describes the pathophysiology of AF, explains the mechanism of action of warfarin (Coumadin), identifies factors that contribute to warfarin (Coumadin)–associated bleeding in the elderly population, and explores alternatives to warfarin (Coumadin) therapy. Implications for advanced practice nurse practice, education, and research will be discussed.
Methods: A literature search was conducted using Academic Search Premier, CINAHL Plus with Full Text, and Medline from 1999 to 2012. Search terms included warfarin (Coumadin), warfarin (Coumadin) genetics, diet, interactions, bleeding, atrial fibrillation, genetics, anticoagulation clinic, dabigatran, apixaban, rivaroxaban, and elderly.
Results: The literature indicates that the potential bleeding risk associated with warfarin (Coumadin) therapy limits its use in the elderly population. However, some studies have found warfarin (Coumadin) to be more effective than aspirin in preventing stroke. The safety profiles of both medications were comparable; also, effective alternatives to warfarin (Coumadin) that do not require routine testing are now available.
Conclusions: Atrial fibrillation increases the probability of an embolic stroke, especially for the elderly population. Stroke risk and bleeding risk tools, in conjunction with patient preference, determine the best stroke prevention treatment. Anticoagulant clinics manage long-term warfarin (Coumadin) therapy effectively. Newer anticoagulants offer effective alternatives to warfarin (Coumadin) therapy.