News for Anyone Who Takes Warfarin

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There are few drugs in the world listed more frequently in medicinal fine print than “warfarin.” Among drugs and supplements, a large number of products will list the medication as having potentially dangerous interactions with other items. It’s not surprising on a couple of fronts. One: Warfarin is very popular. Two: It is quite powerful.

 This isn’t an article denigrating warfarin. After all, a bounty of research has proved that patients with atrial fibrillation (a.k.a. an irregularly rapid heartbeat) can greatly reduce their risk of stroke by taking the anti-clotting drug. Thus, warfarin can and does save lives. Instead, this article is meant to reveal a new discovery about a serious adverse effect of warfarin that everyone who takes it should know.

 Newly published in the journal Neurology, a study shows that warfarin is directly tied to a rising number of strokes, triggered by bleeding in the brain. Particularly dangerous for those over 80, this side effect might negate the drug’s benefits and, believe me, there is one drug company in the country that will be scrambling to find answers — and fast. The numbers go like this: between 1988 and 1999, these types of strokes climbed fivefold. But in people over 80, it was 18-fold.

 That is huge. The researchers say that people should not be immediately put off from taking warfarin, but instead warn doctors and patients to make sure it is being used correctly. Although that sounds like a no-brainer for a drug impacting your blood flow, commonly used drugs can easily become a bit neglected or, perhaps more accurately, taken for granted. The risks and benefits of warfarin must be weighed on an individual basis; while some people will definitely need it (because they’ve had blood clots in the past, for example), others might not (maybe they are only facing a mild risk of blood clotting).

 The study focused on people residing in Cincinnati, mostly throughout the 1990s. The number of brain-related strokes soared to 4.4 incidences per 100,000 people in 1999 from 0.8 incidences per 100,000 people more than a decade earlier. However, that figure pales when compared to the massive rise in adults older than 80: 46 incidences per 100,000 people.

 Warfarin is used to prevent blood clots in those who have a problematic heartbeat, prevent deep vein thrombosis (clots in the lower leg), and to prevent an artery in the lungs from being blocked in people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you are taking this drug, or your doctor is leaning toward prescribing it in the near future, speak to him/her about your risk of hemorrhagic stroke. That conversation — especially if you are well into retirement age — might save your life.