Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blood Thinner Medication Warfarin Linked To Brain Bleeds In Elderly

(Posted by Tom Lamb at DrugInjuryWatch.com)

The January 9, 2007 edition of the medical journal Neurology has a report concerning a new study which reveals that elderly patients using the blood-thinning medicine warfarin may be at greater risk for having a serious brain hemorrhage. Warfarin is sold under various different brand names, with one of the more popular being Coumadin.

According to a January 9, 2007 Newsday article by staff writer Jamie Talan about this Neurology article regarding the new warfarin study:

Scientists at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that use of the anticoagulant medicine increased in the 1990s, and the surge in prescriptions caused a rise in the number of drug-induced intracerebral hemorrhages, especially in people over age 80.

"We've had no idea how often this was happening," said Dr. Matthew Flaherty, lead author of the study that appears in the journal Neurology. Use of the blood thinner increased after many studies showed warfarin was effective at preventing ischemic strokes in people with atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm.

As background, ischemic strokes are caused by a blood clot that forms in the brain or travels to the brain. By contrast, intracerebral hemorrhages involve a blood vessel bursting in the brain; as such, it is commonly referred to as a brain bleed. An intracerebral brain hemorrhage is a relatively rare form of stroke, accounting for less than ten percent of total annual stroke events.

The practical effect of this news about the increased risk of brain bleeds in elderly patients using warfarin, or Coumadin, was covered in a January 8, 2007 article by HealthDay reporter Steven Reinberg:

One expert thinks that doctors need to evaluate a patient's risk of stroke versus their risk of bleeding before prescribing warfarin.

"This study demonstrates that we need to be careful when we use these therapies," said Dr. Michael B. Rothberg, an associate professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Not all patients with atrial fibrillation will benefit from warfarin, Rothberg added. "Not all patients with atrial fibrillation should be getting warfarin," he said. "Patients at the highest risk for stroke will benefit the most, and patients at the highest risk for bleeding will benefit the least," he said.

Rothberg noted that although warfarin is standard treatment for atrial fibrillation, not everyone with atrial fibrillation is at the same risk of stroke. "I don't think that most doctors prescribing warfarin are assessing their patient's risk of stroke and risk of bleeding, but they should be," he said.

In closing, we want to make an important point: As with all prescription medications, patients should talk to their doctors before making any decisions not to take warfarin, or Coumadin.