Importance: Many anticoagulant strategies are available for the treatment of acute venous thromboembolism, yet little guidance exists regarding which drug is most effective and safe.
Objective: To summarize and compare the efficacy and safety outcomes associated with 8 anticoagulation options (unfractionated heparin [UFH], low-molecular-weight heparin [LMWH], or fondaparinux in combination with vitamin K antagonists); LMWH with dabigatran or edoxaban; rivaroxaban; apixaban; and LMWH alone) for treatment of venous thromboembolism.
Data sources: A systematic literature search was conducted using MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the evidence-based medicine reviews from inception through February 28, 2014.
Study selection: Eligible studies were randomized trials reporting rates of recurrent venous thromboembolism and major bleeding in patients with acute venous thromboembolism. Of the 1197 studies identified, 45 trials including 44,989 patients were included in the analyses.
Data extraction and synthesis: Two reviewers independently extracted trial-level data including number of patients, duration of follow-up, and outcomes. The data were pooled using network meta-analysis.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary clinical and safety outcomes were recurrent venous thromboembolism and major bleeding, respectively.
Results: Compared with the LMWH-vitamin K antagonist combination, a treatment strategy using the UFH-vitamin K antagonist combination was associated with an increased risk of recurrent venous thromboembolism (hazard ratio [HR], 1.42; 95% credible interval [CrI], 1.15-1.79). The proportion of patients experiencing recurrent venous thromboembolism during 3 months of treatment were 1.84% (95% CrI, 1.33%-2.51%) for the UFH-vitamin K antagonist combination and 1.30% (95% CrI, 1.02%-1.62%) for the LMWH-vitamin K antagonist combination. Rivaroxaban (HR, 0.55; 95% CrI, 0.35-0.89) and apixaban (HR, 0.31; 95% CrI, 0.15-0.62) were associated with a lower risk of bleeding than was the LMWH-vitamin K antagonist combination, with a lower proportion of patients experiencing a major bleeding event during 3 months of anticoagulation: 0.49% (95% CrI, 0.29%-0.85%) for rivaroxaban, 0.28% (95% CrI, 0.14%-0.50%) for apixaban, and 0.89% (95% CrI, 0.66%-1.16%) for the LMWH-vitamin K antagonist combination.
Conclusions and relevance: Using meta-analytic pooling, there were no statistically significant differences for efficacy and safety associated with most treatment strategies used to treat acute venous thromboembolism compared with the LMWH-vitamin K antagonist combination. However, findings suggest that the UFH-vitamin K antagonist combination is associated with the least effective strategy and that rivaroxaban and apixaban may be associated with the lowest risk for bleeding.