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The use of warfarin in older patients requires special consideration because of concerns with comorbidities, interacting medications, and the risk of bleeding. Several studies have suggested that warfarin may be underused or inconsistently prescribed in long-term care (LTC); no published systematic review has evaluated warfarin use for stroke prevention in this setting. This review was conducted to summarize the body of published original research regarding the use of warfarin in the LTC population.
A systematic literature search of the PubMed, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and Cochrane Library was conducted from January 1985 to August 2010 to identify studies that reported warfarin use in LTC. Studies were grouped by (1) rates of warfarin use and prescribing patterns, (2) association of resident and institutional characteristics with warfarin prescribing, (3) prescriber attitudes and concerns about warfarin use, (4) warfarin management and monitoring, and (5) warfarin-related adverse events. Summaries of study findings and quality assessments of each study were developed.
Twenty-two studies met the inclusion criteria for this review. Atrial fibrillation (AF) was the most common indication for warfarin use in LTC and use of warfarin for stroke survivors was common. Rates of warfarin use in AF were low in 5 studies, ranging from 17% to 57%. These usage rates were low even among residents with high stroke risk and low bleeding risk. Scored bleeding risk had no apparent association with warfarin use in AF. In physician surveys, factors associated with not prescribing warfarin included risk of falls, dementia, short life expectancy, and history of bleeding. International normalized ratio was in the target range approximately half of the time. The combined overall rate of warfarin-related adverse events and potential events was 25.5 per 100 resident months on warfarin therapy.
Among residents with AF, use of warfarin and maintenance of INR levels to prevent stroke appear to be suboptimal. Among prescribers, perceived challenges associated with warfarin therapy often outweigh its benefits. Further research is needed to explicitly consider the appropriate balancing of risks and benefits in this frail patient population.