Background: Pulmonary embolism is a potentially life-threatening condition in which a clot can travel from the deep veins, most commonly in the leg, up to the lungs. Previously, a pulmonary embolism was treated with the anticoagulants heparin and vitamin K antagonists. Recently, however, two forms of direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) have been developed: oral direct thrombin inhibitors (DTI) and oral factor Xa inhibitors. The new drugs have characteristics that may be favourable over conventional treatment, including oral administration, a predictable effect, lack of frequent monitoring or re-dosing and few known drug interactions. To date, no Cochrane review has measured the effectiveness and safety of these drugs in the long-term treatment (minimum duration of three months) of pulmonary embolism.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of oral DTIs and oral factor Xa inhibitors for the long-term treatment of pulmonary embolism.
Search methods: The Cochrane Vascular Trials Search Co-ordinator searched the Specialised Register (last searched January 2015) and the Cochrane Register of Studies (last searched January 2015). Clinical trials databases were also searched for details of ongoing or unpublished studies. We searched the reference lists of relevant articles retrieved by electronic searches for additional citations.
Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials in which patients with a pulmonary embolism confirmed by standard imaging techniques were allocated to receive an oral DTI or an oral factor Xa inhibitor for the long-term (minimum duration three months) treatment of pulmonary embolism.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors (LR, JM) independently extracted the data and assessed the risk of bias in the trials. Any disagreements were resolved by discussion with the third author (PK). We used meta-analyses when we considered heterogeneity low. The two primary outcomes were recurrent venous thromboembolism and pulmonary embolism. Other outcomes included all-cause mortality and major bleeding. We calculated all outcomes using an odds ratio (OR) with a 95% confidence interval (CI).
Main results: We included five randomised controlled trials with a total of 7897 participants. Two studies tested oral DTIs (dabigatran) and three studies tested oral factor Xa inhibitors (one rivaroxaban, one edoxaban and one apixaban).Analysis showed no difference in the effectiveness of oral DTIs and standard anticoagulation in preventing recurrent pulmonary embolism (OR 1.02, 95% CI 0.50 to 2.04; two studies; 1602 participants; high quality evidence), recurrent venous thromboembolism (OR 0.93, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.66; two studies; 1602 participants; high quality evidence), deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (OR 0.79, 95% CI 0.29 to 2.13; two studies; 1602 participants; high quality evidence) and major bleeding (OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.15 to 1.68; two studies; 1527 participants; high quality evidence).For oral factor Xa inhibitors, when we combined the three included studies together in meta-analyses, there was significant heterogeneity for recurrent pulmonary embolism (OR 1.08, 95% CI 0.46 to 2.56; two studies; 4509 participants; I(2) = 58%; moderate quality evidence). The oral factor Xa inhibitors were no more or less effective in the prevention of recurrent venous thromboembolism (OR 0.85, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.15; three studies; 6295 participants; high quality evidence), DVT (OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.39 to 1.32; two studies; 4509 participants; high quality evidence), all-cause mortality (OR 1.16, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.70; one study; 4817 participants; moderate quality evidence) or major bleeding (OR 0.97, 95% CI 0.59 to 1.62; two studies; 4507 participants; high quality evidence). None of the studies measured quality of life.
Authors' conclusions: Moderate to high quality evidence suggests that there are no differences between DOACs and standard anticoagulation for the long-term treatment of pulmonary embolism, for the outcomes recurrent pulmonary embolism, recurrent venous thromboembolism, DVT, all-cause mortality and major bleeding.