Heart Health Treatments

Can Warfarin Work for You?

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Summary & Participants

Because atrial fibrillation may cause blood clots and stroke, warfarin is often given to patients with the condition fibrillation to help thin their blood and protect them from having strokes.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript

ANNOUNCER: For patients with atrial fibrillation - a type of irregular heartbeat, a drug often prescribed is warfarin to help prevent the most serious consequence of this condition.

ERIC MICHELSON, MD: Warfarin is a drug that's been around for a long period of time, with which we've had a lot of experience. It's the only available oral anticoagulant or oral blood thinner, meaning it's the only drug we can take by mouth to keep our blood thin, and in atrial fibrillation, the single most immediate concern for patients is to make sure they're protected from having strokes which may be related to clots which form in the chambers of the heart known as the atria. So in atrial fibrillation, these clots tend to form, and these clots, if not prevented with a blood thinner like warfarin, may lead to strokes.

ANNOUNCER: These dangerous clots can sometimes form inside the two upper chambers of the heart.

NANETTE KASS WENGER, MD: When the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, fibrillate, it means that they don't have coordinated pumping function. They simply quiver, like a bowlful of Jello. And because of that, the blood may clot in the corners of those atria.

Now, those blood clots may go anywhere—to the lung, to the brain, to the body. And atrial fibrillation is one of the most common causes of stroke, with its disastrous consequences. So the older you are, the more likely you are to have stroke from atrial fibrillation. But younger patients are not truly protected, so that warfarin, the blood thinner, is absolutely necessary to prevent clots forming in the atrium and those clots going to the lung and all over the body.

ADOLPH M. HUTTER, JR., MD: The point is that everybody in atrial fibrillation has to be protected from a stroke. Warfarin is a very good drug to do it. However, many patients get equal protection from aspirin, 325 mg. Not a baby aspirin, a regular adult aspirin. And we can identify by certain risk factors which form of therapy is better for you.