Background: The primary manifestation of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is respiratory insufficiency that can also be related to diffuse pulmonary microthrombosis and thromboembolic events, such as pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, or arterial thrombosis. People with COVID-19 who develop thromboembolism have a worse prognosis. Anticoagulants such as heparinoids (heparins or pentasaccharides), vitamin K antagonists and direct anticoagulants are used for the prevention and treatment of venous or arterial thromboembolism. Besides their anticoagulant properties, heparinoids have an additional anti-inflammatory potential. However, the benefit of anticoagulants for people with COVID-19 is still under debate.
Objectives: To assess the benefits and harms of anticoagulants versus active comparator, placebo or no intervention in people hospitalised with COVID-19.
Search methods: We searched the CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS and IBECS databases, the Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register and medRxiv preprint database from their inception to 14 April 2021. We also checked the reference lists of any relevant systematic reviews identified, and contacted specialists in the field for additional references to trials.
Selection criteria: Eligible studies were randomised controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-RCTs, cluster-RCTs and cohort studies that compared prophylactic anticoagulants versus active comparator, placebo or no intervention for the management of people hospitalised with COVID-19. We excluded studies without a comparator group and with a retrospective design (all previously included studies) as we were able to include better study designs. Primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and necessity for additional respiratory support. Secondary outcomes were mortality related to COVID-19, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, major bleeding, adverse events, length of hospital stay and quality of life.
Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane methodological procedures. We used Cochrane RoB 1 to assess the risk of bias for RCTs, ROBINS-I to assess risk of bias for non-randomised studies (NRS) and GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence. We meta-analysed data when appropriate.
Main results: We included seven studies (16,185 participants) with participants hospitalised with COVID-19, in either intensive care units, hospital wards or emergency departments. Studies were from Brazil (2), Iran (1), Italy (1), and the USA (1), and two involved more than country. The mean age of participants was 55 to 68 years and the follow-up period ranged from 15 to 90 days. The studies assessed the effects of heparinoids, direct anticoagulants or vitamin K antagonists, and reported sparse data or did not report some of our outcomes of interest: necessity for additional respiratory support, mortality related to COVID-19, and quality of life. Higher-dose versus lower-dose anticoagulants (4 RCTs, 4647 participants) Higher-dose anticoagulants result in little or no difference in all-cause mortality (risk ratio (RR) 1.03, 95% CI 0.92 to 1.16, 4489 participants; 4 RCTs) and increase minor bleeding (RR 3.28, 95% CI 1.75 to 6.14, 1196 participants; 3 RCTs) compared to lower-dose anticoagulants up to 30 days (high-certainty evidence). Higher-dose anticoagulants probably reduce pulmonary embolism (RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.31 to 0.70, 4360 participants; 4 RCTs), and slightly increase major bleeding (RR 1.78, 95% CI 1.13 to 2.80, 4400 participants; 4 RCTs) compared to lower-dose anticoagulants up to 30 days (moderate-certainty evidence). Higher-dose anticoagulants may result in little or no difference in deep vein thrombosis (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.57 to 2.03, 3422 participants; 4 RCTs), stroke (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.40 to 2.03, 4349 participants; 3 RCTs), major adverse limb events (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.01 to 7.99, 1176 participants; 2 RCTs), myocardial infarction (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.48 to 1.55, 4349 participants; 3 RCTs), atrial fibrillation (RR 0.35, 95% CI 0.07 to 1.70, 562 participants; 1 study), or thrombocytopenia (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.24, 2789 participants; 2 RCTs) compared to lower-dose anticoagulants up to 30 days (low-certainty evidence). It is unclear whether higher-dose anticoagulants have any effect on necessity for additional respiratory support, mortality related to COVID-19, and quality of life (very low-certainty evidence or no data). Anticoagulants versus no treatment (3 prospective NRS, 11,538 participants) Anticoagulants may reduce all-cause mortality but the evidence is very uncertain due to two study results being at critical and serious risk of bias (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.55 to 0.74, 8395 participants; 3 NRS; very low-certainty evidence). It is uncertain if anticoagulants have any effect on necessity for additional respiratory support, mortality related to COVID-19, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, major bleeding, stroke, myocardial infarction and quality of life (very low-certainty evidence or no data). Ongoing studies We found 62 ongoing studies in hospital settings (60 RCTs, 35,470 participants; 2 prospective NRS, 120 participants) in 20 different countries. Thirty-five ongoing studies plan to report mortality and 26 plan to report necessity for additional respiratory support. We expect 58 studies to be completed in December 2021, and four in July 2022. From 60 RCTs, 28 are comparing different doses of anticoagulants, 24 are comparing anticoagulants versus no anticoagulants, seven are comparing different types of anticoagulants, and one did not report detail of the comparator group.
Authors' conclusions: When compared to a lower-dose regimen, higher-dose anticoagulants result in little to no difference in all-cause mortality and increase minor bleeding in people hospitalised with COVID-19 up to 30 days. Higher-dose anticoagulants possibly reduce pulmonary embolism, slightly increase major bleeding, may result in little to no difference in hospitalisation time, and may result in little to no difference in deep vein thrombosis, stroke, major adverse limb events, myocardial infarction, atrial fibrillation, or thrombocytopenia. Compared with no treatment, anticoagulants may reduce all-cause mortality but the evidence comes from non-randomised studies and is very uncertain. It is unclear whether anticoagulants have any effect on the remaining outcomes compared to no anticoagulants (very low-certainty evidence or no data). Although we are very confident that new RCTs will not change the effects of different doses of anticoagulants on mortality and minor bleeding, high-quality RCTs are still needed, mainly for the other primary outcome (necessity for additional respiratory support), the comparison with no anticoagulation, when comparing the types of anticoagulants and giving anticoagulants for a prolonged period of time.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04394377 NCT04486508 NCT04354155 NCT04359212 NCT04368377 NCT04393805 NCT04483830 NCT04504032 NCT04736901 NCT04828772 NCT04528888 NCT04360824 NCT04401293 NCT04445935 NCT04389840 NCT04487990 NCT04408235 NCT04344756 NCT04345848 NCT04352400 NCT04366960 NCT04367831 NCT04373707 NCT04397510 NCT04406389 NCT04409834 NCT04416048 NCT04420299 NCT04485429 NCT04530578 NCT04584580 NCT04604327 NCT04362085.
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