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BACKGROUND: Patients with atrial fibrillation have a high mortality rate that is only partially attributable to vascular outcomes. The competing risk of death may affect the expected anticoagulant benefit. We determined if competing risks materially affect the guideline-endorsed estimate of anticoagulant benefit. METHODS: We conducted a secondary analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials that randomized patients with atrial fibrillation to vitamin K antagonists (VKAs) or either placebo or antiplatelets. For each participant, we estimated the absolute risk reduction (ARR) of VKAs to prevent stroke or systemic embolism using 2 methods-first using a guideline-endorsed model (CHA2DS2-VASc) and then again using a competing risk model that uses the same inputs as CHA2DS2-VASc but accounts for the competing risk of death and allows for nonlinear growth in benefit. We compared the absolute and relative differences in estimated benefit and whether the differences varied by life expectancy. RESULTS: A total of 7933 participants (median age, 73 years, 36% women) had a median life expectancy of 8 years (interquartile range, 6-12), determined by comorbidity-adjusted life tables and 43% were randomized to VKAs. The CHA2DS2-VASc model estimated a larger ARR than the competing risk model (median ARR at 3 years, 6.9% [interquartile range, 4.7%-10.0%] versus 5.2% [interquartile range, 3.5%-7.4%]; P<0.001). ARR differences varied by life expectancies: for those with life expectancies in the highest decile, 3-year ARR difference (CHA2DS2-VASc model - competing risk model 3-year risk) was -1.3% (95% CI, -1.3% to -1.2%); for those with life expectancies in the lowest decile, 3-year ARR difference was 4.7% (95% CI, 4.5%-5.0%). CONCLUSIONS: VKA anticoagulants were exceptionally effective at reducing stroke risk. However, VKA benefits were misestimated with CHA2DS2-VASc, which does not account for the competing risk of death nor decelerating treatment benefit over time. Overestimation was most pronounced when life expectancy was low and when the benefit was estimated over a multiyear horizon.

Original publication




Journal article


Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes

Publication Date



anticoagulants, atrial fibrillation, clinical decision-making, risk assessment, survival analysis