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Q: My father was recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and his doctor wants him to take blood thinners. He's afraid of the bleeding risk. How can he take blood thinners and still be safe?

Physicians always weigh risks and benefits before prescribing medications. Furthermore, these decisions are not based on our personal observations or biases, but instead on nationally or internationally agreed upon guidelines, which in turn are based on carefully done, rigorously reviewed scientific research, usually involving many thousands of patients. In the case of atrial fibrillation, the most feared risk is of blood clots forming in the heart, which then may travel off to block blood flow to other organs. The most potentially catastrophic example of this may be a fatal or crippling stroke, due to blockage of a blood vessel serving the brain. In those patients who are at an acceptably low risk of bleeding, blood thinners are a very effective and safe means of preventing such complications of atrial fibrillation.