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Comparing the Effectiveness and Safety of the Direct Oral Anticoagulants (DOACs) in Patients With A-Fib

Anticoagulants are used with high-risk Atrial Fibrillation patients for the prevention of clots and stroke. FDA approved in 2010, Direct Oral Anticoagulant (DOACs) quickly became attractive alternatives to warfarin, the long‐standing standard of care in anticoagulation.

DOACs include dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto) and apixaban (Eliquis). (Edoxaban [Savaysa] approval came later.)

The use of the term “Direct Oral Anticoagulants” (DOACs) has replaced the term NOACs (Novel Oral Anticoagulants), but it means the same.

When the FDA approved DOACs (Direct Oral Anticoagulants), they relied on 3 different clinical trials. But these trials only compared a DOAC, like Eliquis, to warfarin, not to the other DOACs.

Someone like myself had to dig deep into the research to find evidence of which DOAC actually tested better/safer of the three. (I found that Eliquis tested better and was safer.)

For more about the DOACs, see my articles: Warfarin and the New Anticoagulants, and my report from the AF Symposium: The New Anticoagulants.

DOACs: Finally a Head-to-Head Comparison

Today there is clinical data comparing the DOACs against each other. (And support my original reports.)

A comprehensive review of 36 randomized control trials and observational studies included over 1 ¼ million patients. The DOACs compared were apixaban, dabigatran, rivaroxaban, and edoxaban. The reviewers found:

▪ For major bleeding: Eliquis (apixaban) “tended to be safer” than Xarelto (rivaroxaban) and Pradaxa (dabigatran) based on both direct and indirect comparisons;

▪ For best treatment: Eliquis had a higher probability of being the best treatment of decreased risk of stroke/systemic embolism;

▪ Highest benefit: Eliquis had the highest net clinical benefit and smallest NNTnet (Number Needed to Treat for net effect, i.e., how many people were helped by it, how many were harmed.)

Reviewers Conclusions

The researchers wrote: “Apixaban (Eliquis) appeared to have a favorable effectiveness-safety profile compared with the other DOACs (NOACs) in AF for stroke prevention, based on evidence from both direct and indirect comparisons.” (Translation: Eliquis was found to be more effective and safer than the other DOACs).

Editor’s Comments:

Editor's Comments about Cecelia's A-Fib storyIn the world of scientific statistics and cautious conclusions, this is about as big an endorsement as you will find: Eliquis is superior to the other anticoagulants.
If you’re on a different DOAC, talk to your doctor about switching to Eliquis.
Know the Risks of Taking Anticoagulants (Blood Thinners): Taking almost any prescription medication has trade-offs. In the case of anticoagulants, on one hand you get protection from having an A-Fib stroke (which often leads to death or severe disability), but on the other hand you have an increased risk of bleeding and other problems.
Is an Anticoagulant Necessary for Me? Be certain you should be on an anticoagulant in the first place. Doctors assess an A-Fib patient’s risk of stroke using a rating scale (called CHA2DS2-VASc). Ask your doctor what’s your risk-of-stroke score. If your score is a 1 or 2 (out of 10), ask if you could take a non-prescription approach to a blood thinner.
Remember Anticoagulants Are High Risk Drugs: Be aware that all anticoagulants are considered high risk drugs.

They aren’t like taking vitamins, though they are certainly better than having an A-Fib (ischemic) stroke. To learn more see: Anticoagulants Increase Risk of Hemorrhagic-Type Strokes.

Resource for this article
Zhang, J., et al. Comparative effectiveness and safety of direct acting oral anticoagulants in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation for stroke prevention: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-021-00751-7

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