Atrial fibrillation is the most common sustained cardiac arrhythmia in the general population. In western countries with aging populations, atrial fibrillation poses a significant health concern, as it is associated with a high risk of thromboembolism, stroke, congestive heart failure, and myocardial infarction. Thrombi are generated in the left atrial appendage, and subsequent embolism into the cerebral circulation is a major cause of ischemic stroke. Therefore, patients have a lifetime risk of stroke, and those at high risk, defined as a CHA2DS2-VASc2 (congestive heart failure, hypertension, age >75 years, diabetes mellitus, stroke/transient ischemic attack/thromboembolism, vascular disease, age 65-74 yrs, sex category) ≥2, are usually placed on oral anticoagulants. Unfortunately, long-term anticoagulation poses bleeding risks, of which intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) is the most feared and deadly complication.
In patients who survive an ICH, the question of oral anticoagulation resumption arises. It is a therapeutic dilemma in which clinicians must decide how to manage the risk of thromboembolism versus recurrent hemorrhage. Although there is a substantial amount of retrospective data on the topic of resumption of anticoagulation, there are, at this time, no randomized controlled trials addressing the issue. We therefore sought to address ICH risk and management, summarize high quality existing evidence on restarting oral anticoagulation, and suggest an approach to clinical decision-making.