Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It affects as many as 6 million Americans, and that number is expected to increase as people age.
AFib is caused when the electrical system in the heart doesn’t function properly, so the two upper chambers of the heart, the atria, don’t contract as they should. Instead of pushing blood into the lower chambers, blood can pool in the upper chambers, clot, and travel to the brain, causing a stroke.
If you have AFib, you’re almost five times more likely to have a stroke than someone without it—even if you’re not currently experiencing symptoms.
Warfarin— A Medication to Prevent Stroke in Patients with AFib
Traditionally, if you were diagnosed with AFib, you may have been prescribed a blood thinner called warfarin, under brand names of Coumadin or Jantoven. Warfarin decreases your ability to form blood clots and prevents clots from getting larger. Of course, your body still needs to be able to form clots if you get injured, so your dose is designed to maintain that balance.
However, maintaining that balance can be tricky. According to the American Heart Association, your dose of warfarin is based on keeping the time it takes for your blood to clot within a normal range—this is called International Normalized Ratio (INR). This rate can fluctuate, so you must get your blood tested frequently in case your dose of warfarin needs to be adjusted.
While warfarin decreases the risk of clotting, it increases the risk of excessive bleeding, particularly in the gastrointestinal system or the brain. You may have some restrictions, such as not using warfarin if you become pregnant, wearing medical identification, and guarding against interactions between warfarin and alcohol or food.
Other blood thinners prescribed to decrease your ability to form clots include Apixaban (Eliquis), Rivaroxaban (Xarelto) and Dabigatran (Pradaxa).
An Alternative Treatment for Stroke Prevention
In addition to medication for preventing clotting due to AFib, you may eligible for an FDA-approved alternative called the Watchman Device. This permanent implant is inserted by a catheter through a blood vessel in your groin, and it seals off an area in the left atria where most clots form.
Learn More About Our Atrial Fibrillation Program
Learn about the advanced technology, procedures and patient-care our Atrial Fibrillation Program has to offer at Orlando Health Heart Institute.Learn More