what is the risk of an ischaemic stroke if a patient with atrial fibrillation stops oral anticoagulant therapy (OAC)?

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Considering what is the risk of an ischaemic stroke (IS) if a patient with atrial fibrillation stops oral anticoagulation therapy (OAC)?

A study investigating this question was undertaken (1):

  • undertook a population-based cohort study with nested case-control analysis using UK primary care electronic health records (IQVIA Medical Research Data-UK) and linked registries from the Region of Southern Denmark (RSD). Patients with AF (76 882 UK, 41 526 RSD) were followed to identify incident IS cases during 2016–2018. Incident IS cases were matched by age and sex to controls. Adjusted ORs for OAC discontinuation (vs current OAC use) were calculated using logistic regression
  • identified 616 incident IS cases in the UK and 643 in the RSD. ORs for IS with any OAC discontinuation were 2.99 (95% CI 2.31 to 3.86, UK) and 2.30 (95% CI 1.79 to 2.95, RSD), for vitamin K antagonist discontinuation they were 2.38 (95% CI 1.72 to 3.30, UK) and 1.83 (95% CI 1.34 to 2.49, RSD), and for non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulant discontinuation they were 4.59 (95% CI 2.97 to 7.08, UK) and 3.37 (95% CI 2.35 to 4.85, RSD). ORs were unaffected by time since discontinuation and duration of use. Annually, up to 987 IS cases in the UK and 132 in Denmark could be preventable if OAC therapy is not discontinued

Study authors concluded that (1):

  • patients with AF who discontinue OAC therapy have a significant twofold to threefold higher risk of IS compared with those who continue therapy


  • Rodríguez LAG et al.Discontinuation of oral anticoagulation in atrial fibrillation and risk of ischaemic stroke.Heart Published Online First: 11 December 2020. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2020-317887.

Last edited 12/2020 and last reviewed 06/2021