How should I choose between the direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs)?

Although warfarin has long been the standard treatment for venous thromboembolism (VTE) and thomboprophylaxis in atrial fibrillation (AF), the need for its frequent monitoring, potential drug interactions, and narrow therapeutic window made it far from ideal.

Since 2009, DOACs have become viable alternative agents owing to their more predictable and safer pharmacological profiles. DOACs include several direct factor Xa inhibitors (apixaban, rivaroxaban, edoxaban) and a direct thrombin inhibitor (dabigatran). Approved indications include: (1) thromboprophylaxis in nonvalvular AF; (2) treatment of deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism; and (3) primary prevention of postoperative VTE. 

Compared to warfarin, DOACs are associated with a reduced risk of intracranial hemorrhage, and in the case of apixaban, lower risk of gastrointestinal bleeding; rivaroxaban and edoxaban have been associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.  

Apixaban is also the only NOAC whose dose can be safely reduced in chronic kidney disease, including those on hemodialysis. 

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1. Baber U, Mastoris I, and Mehran R. Balancing ischaemia and bleeding risks with novel oral anticoagulants. Nat Rev Cardiol 2014;11:693-703. 

2. Ansell JE. Universal, class-specific, and drug-specific reversal agents for the new oral anticoagulants. J Thromb Thrombolysis 2016;41:248-52.


Contributed by William L. Hwang, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

How should I choose between the direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs)?

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