Dr. Manesh Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., who was the lead study author, said patients with an irregular heartbeat take anti-clotting medication reduce the risks of clots that could lead to a stroke.
However, when the patients need surgery or a medical procedure, the patients must stop taking the medication temporarily.
"No matter what drug they are on, patients who need anti-coagulation revert back to their intrinsic risk of stroke and embolism after discontinuation, so it shouldn't be done lightly," Patel said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it's unclear how to provide optimal anti-coagulation coverage during periods of transition."
Patel and colleagues analyzed data from a clinical trial and found the risk was similar whether patients were taking the drug warfarin or the newer anti-coagulant rivaroxaban, which doesn't require the frequent monitoring of warfarin.
Rivaroxaban was found to be as effective as warfarin in preventing stroke and blood clots in more than 14,000 patients with atrial fibrillation. After discontinuing rivaroxaban, however, the threat of blood clots increased, which led to a warning in the prescribing information, Patel said.
The findings were presented at the American Heart Association's Emerging Science Series Webinar.