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Anticoagulation therapy in the elderly with non-valvular atrial fibrillation: a double-edged sword

Francesco Vetta, Gabriella Locorotondo, Giampaolo Vetta
  • Gabriella Locorotondo
    Cardiology Unit, Israelite Hospital, Rome; Institute of Cardiology, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, Italy
  • Giampaolo Vetta
    Cardiology Unit, Israelite Hospital, Rome; Institute of Cardiology, Campus Bio-Medico University, Rome, Italy


Prevalence of non-valvular atrial fibrillation is increasing over time. Particularly in elderly population, treatment strategies to reduce the rate of stroke are challenging and still represent an unsolved cultural question. Indeed, the risk of thromboembolism increases in the elderly in parallel with the risk of bleeding. The frequent coexistence of several morbidities, frailty syndrome, polypharmacy, chronic kidney disease and dementia strengthens the perception that risk-benefit ratio of anticoagulant therapy could be unfavorable, and explains why such treatment is underused in the elderly. Recently, the introduction of non-vitamin K oral anticoagulants (NOACs) has allowed us to overcome the large number of limitations imposed by the use of vitamin K antagonists. In this manuscript, the benefits of individual NOACs in comparison with warfarin in elderly patients are reviewed. Targeted studies on complex elderly patients are needed to test usefulness of a geriatric comprehensive assessment, besides the scores addressing risk of thromboembolic and hemorrhagic events. In the meantime, it is mandatory that use of anticoagulant therapy in most elderly people, currently excluded from randomized controlled trials, is prudent and responsible.


Atrial fibrillation; non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulation; warfarin; elderly; stroke; hemorrhage; frailty.

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Submitted: 2016-11-04 15:59:25
Published: 2017-07-18 10:47:00
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Copyright (c) 2017 Francesco Vetta, Gabriella Locorotondo, Giampaolo Vetta

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