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May 24, 2012

New Treatment for Pulmonary Embolism

A blood clot-fighting drug can treat pulmonary embolism in an easy, safe and effective way.

Pulmonary embolism occurs when one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked, often caused by a blood clot traveling from another part of the body, like the leg, to the lungs. Although pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, immediate treatment with anti-clotting medications can greatly improve chances of survival. But despite its efficacy, standard treatment for pulmonary embolism, such as heparin and warfarin, can have serious side effects like increased bleeding risk. Standard treatment is also complex, as patients must take heparin immediately following their event and eventually switch over to warfarin long-term, requiring a delicate balance in doses and continuous monitoring to avoid adverse events.

Fortunately, researchers have identified a simpler regimen to treat pulmonary embolism that is just as effective and may carry less risk of bleeding—the most common side effect of anti-clotting medications. This study, presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session, included more than 4,800 patients with pulmonary embolism, about 1,200 of whom had deep-vein thrombosis—blood clots formed in a vein deep within the body. Half of these patients received standard treatment, while the other half received a simple, fixed dose of an anti-clot drug called rivaroxaban. After following patients for an average of nine months, researchers found that rivaroxaban was not only equally as effective in treating pulmonary embolism, patients on this new treatment had significantly fewer cases of serious bleeding in comparison to patients receiving standard therapy.

These findings add to a number of studies showing that rivaroxaban may treat pulmonary embolism as well as standard treatment, but with less bleeding risk. And although this drug is not yet approved for the treatment of pulmonary embolism or deep-vein thrombosis, it is currently approved for other uses, like treating deep-vein thrombosis after knee or hip replacement and for stroke prevention in patients with atrial fibrillation. So with further research on the use of rivaroxaban in treating pulmonary embolism, it is possible that it may soon become the standard treatment for this condition. After all, if the drug is not only safer and simpler than current therapies, it may ultimately help improve outcomes for patients.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the difference between pulmonary embolism and deep-vein thrombosis?

  • Deep-vein thrombosis is clotting in the veins deep within the body. Pulmonary embolism is often a complication of deep-vein thrombosis, which occurs when the clot travels to the lungs, blocking the flow of blood. Both conditions require immediate treatment with anticoagulant medications to help break up the clot and restore normal blood flow.

  • How do anti-clot medications work?

  • Anticoagulants, or anti-clot medications, such as heparin and warfarin, prevent the production of certain proteins needed for blood to clot. As a result, they can help keep existing blood clots from getting larger and prevent new ones from forming.

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