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Two Studies Question Safety of New Blood-Thinning Medications

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The National Center for Health Statistics reports that among people 75 and older, the use of blood-thinning medications like Coumadin (warfarin) and Pradaxa (dabigatran) have dramatically increased from 3-4 percent to 10-11 percent. These medications help people avoid blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes, but they also come with serious risks, the most dangerous being that of uncontrolled bleeding.

A recent study shows that those risks may be even more concerning than previously believed, and may even outweigh the drugs’ benefits. A second study also indicates that blood-thinning medications contribute to about seven percent of medication errors made in hospitals.

Benefits of Blood-Thinning Drugs Don’t Outweigh Risks

Researchers from Hungary performed a seven-study meta-analysis to evaluate the safety of new-generation blood-thinning medications compared to a placebo in patients receiving anti-platelet therapy. They looked at Pradaxa, Xarelto (rivaroxaban), and Eliquis (apixaban) in over 31,000 patients admitted to hospitals between 2000 and 2011.

Results showed that patients taking the drugs experienced a significant reduction in risks of blood clotting events, but starting new medications was associated with a dramatic increase in major bleeding events. In fact, researchers found a three-fold increased risk of major bleeding events in patients after taking these drugs.

“When both composite ischemic events and major bleeding events were taken into account,” researchers wrote, “the use of new-generation oral anticoagulant agents showed no difference in net clinical benefit.”

Study Shows Blood Thinners Involved in Seven Percent of Errors

A new study published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy also shows that blood thinners are involved in about seven percent of hospital medication errors. As reported in Medical News Today, such errors can be particularly dangerous since blood-thinners can cause life-threatening complications.

Patients admitted to the hospital for heart attacks, strokes, deep vein thrombosis, and other blood clot related conditions may use blood thinning medications to help prevent further clotting. The two main types of these drugs are:

  1. anticoagulants, which prolong the time it takes for a blood clot to form, and
  2. antiplatelets, which prevent blood cells from grouping together and causing a clot.

Some patients may be safer taking one medication rather than the other. Researchers suggest doctors access electronic medical records before administering these drugs, to be sure the type and dosage is safe. Another suggestion is to have a pharmacist accompany doctors on patient rounds, to help consult on medication types and dosages.

Lawsuits Increasing

Patients who have suffered serious injuries because of blood thinning medications have already filed a number of lawsuits around the country. The FDA approved Pradaxa in 2010, but already hundreds of patients have filed complaints against manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim for failing to provide adequate warnings about the risks.

One of the most concerning factors about Pradaxa is that there is currently no antidote to stop the drug’s effects. While patients taking warfarin may receive injections of vitamin K to stop excessive bleeding, doctors have no such option when faced with Pradaxa-linked bleeding events.


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  1. Sal says:
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    Your meta analysis looks only at ACS patients with anticoagulation that aren’t even approved by the FDA for use. Even though Xarelto is approved for ACS outside the United States. Xarelto, Pradaxa, and Eliquis are all alternatives patients can take besides warfarin. The benefits of these meds over warfarin are not having to continue to get your INR checked and no dietary restrictions. All are indicated for non valvular atrial fib while Xarelto also has indications for deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and to take when getting knee or hip replacement surgery.