Background: Warfarin sodium is widely used and causes bleeding; a review might suggest the need for regulatory action by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Methods: We accessed warfarin prescriptions from the National Prescription Audit Plus database of IMS Health (Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania), adverse event reports submitted to the FDA, deaths due to therapeutic use of anticoagulants from vital statistics data, and warfarin bleeding complications from national hospital emergency department data.
Results: The number of dispensed outpatient prescriptions for warfarin increased 45%, from 21 million in 1998 to nearly 31 million in 2004. The FDA's Adverse Event Reporting System indicated that warfarin is among the top 10 drugs with the largest number of serious adverse event reports submitted during the 1990 and 2000 decades. From US death certificates, anticoagulants ranked first in 2003 and 2004 in the number of total mentions of deaths for drugs causing "adverse effects in therapeutic use." Data from hospital emergency departments for 1999 through 2003 indicated that warfarin was associated with about 29 000 visits for bleeding complications per year, and it was among the drugs with the most visits. These data are consistent with literature reports of major bleeding frequencies for warfarin as high as 10% to 16%.
Conclusions: Use of warfarin has increased, and bleeding from warfarin use is a prevalent reaction and an important cause of mortality. Consequently, a "black box" warning about warfarin's bleeding risk was added to the US product labeling in 2006. Physicians and nurses should tell patients to immediately report signs and symptoms of bleeding. A Medication Guide, which is required to be provided with each prescription, reinforces this message.