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Preventing stroke in patients with heart failure: why are patients losing out?
  1. Martin R Cowie1,
  2. Rosita Zakeri1,2
  1. 1 National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Department of Cardiology, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Martin R Cowie, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London SW3 6LY, UK; m.cowie{at}

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According to international guidelines, including those from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), patients with atrial fibrillation and an additional risk factor for thromboembolic events, such as heart failure, should be considered for long-term oral anticoagulation.1 Risk assessment should include the use of the CHA2DS2-VASc score, which among other things gives a point for the presence of the signs or symptoms of heart failure (or objective evidence of reduced left ventricular function), as well as for being female or older age (1 point for age 65–74 years, 2 points for age 75 years or older).2 Thus, for the vast majority of patients with heart failure and atrial fibrillation, oral anticoagulation should be the default position, the only exception being those who have excessively high bleeding risk and/or those who (after full discussion) do not wish to take an anticoagulant.

In England, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also recommends that the CHA2DS2-VASc stroke risk score should be used for all patients with atrial fibrillation, and that oral anticoagulation should be ‘offered’ (the strongest level of recommendation) to people with a CHA2DS2-VASc score of 2 or above, taking bleeding risk into account.3 As in the ESC guideline,1 the HAS-BLED bleeding risk score is recommended to provide a more objective estimate of bleeding risk—with emphasis on tackling those risk factors for bleeding that may be reversible (such as uncontrolled hypertension, concomitant use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or harmful alcohol consumption). Of note, several of the factors that are associated with increased bleeding risk are also strongly associated with an increased risk of thromboembolism, making clinical decision-making complex …

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  • Contributors Both MRC and RZ authored this editorial.

  • Competing interests MRC is a Non-Executive Director of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, but the opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of that organisation. He is also a member of the medical advisory boards of the Atrial Fibrillation Association and the Pumping Marvellous Foundation, two patient charities. RZ has no declaration of interests.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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