Practical Considerations for the Use of Direct Oral Anticoagulants in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation

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Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis


Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a significant risk factor for stroke and peripheral thromboembolic events (TEs). Preventing blood clots in the heart to reduce stroke and TE risk is a key goal of AF therapy. Traditional stroke risk assessment tools for patients with nonvalvular AF include the CHADS2 and CHA(2)DS(2)-VASc scores, while long-term outcome data with the newer direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) are emerging. The goals of this review were to assess traditional therapies and existing treatment guidelines and to discuss key pharmacologic properties of the DOACS, noting how these may benefit at-risk patients with AF. This narrative review was developed on the basis of the authors' clinical knowledge, extensive reading of the literature, and broad pharmacy experience in the management of patients with AF. Limitations of oral vitamin K antagonists (VKAs) include slow onset of action, the need for regular monitoring of their anticoagulation effect, significant food and drug interactions, and unpredictable dose-response properties. Key clinical trial data led to the approvals of apixaban, dabigatran etexilate, edoxaban, and rivaroxaban in the United States to reduce the risk of stroke and systemic embolism in patients with nonvalvular AF. With predictable pharmacologic properties and limited drug and/or dietary interactions, the DOACs offer several benefits over traditional oral anticoagulation therapy with VKA. However, they have limitations, including the absence of immediate reversal agents and limited options for monitoring their anticoagulation effects in clinical practice. As experience with the use of DOACs grows, optimized treatment regimens and improved patient care are expected.

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