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Apr 04, 2013

Patients with Pulmonary Embolism Benefit from Clot-Busting Drug

According to recent research, tenecteplase (TNKase) lowered the risk of circulatory system collapse, especially among younger patients.

The clot-busting drug tenecteplase (TNKase) may improve outcomes for certain patients with pulmonary embolism, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session.

Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels to the lungs from another part of the body—usually from the legs. Although pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, immediate treatment can help reduce risk of death. Most often, blood thinners like heparin are used to treat pulmonary embolism since they prevent new clots from forming. But researchers heading the PEITHO (Pulmonary Embolism Thrombosis) Study were curious whether a thrombolytic drug that actually dissolves existing clots might be more effective than blood thinners alone. Although they increase risk of bleeding, clot-busting drugs can dissolve blood clots rapidly and may be the best therapy in life-threatening situations.

To test this theory, researchers treated more than 1,000 pulmonary embolism patients with heparin or heparin plus the clot-busting drug tenecteplase. After following each patient for a week after their treatment, researchers found that risk of circulatory system collapse (a serious complication associated with pulmonary embolism) or death was 56% lower in patients taking the clot-busting drug. Although the clot-buster did increase risk of bleeding and stroke, the drug was most effective in patients under 75 years old. Younger patients benefited the most from tenecteplase and had fewer serious complications from the drug than older patients.

Experts are encouraged by these findings and hope to conduct additional research to identify more closely which type of patients could benefit the most from clot-busters. Ideally, doctors want to reserve clot-busting medications for patients with low risk of complications, because if the drug helps treat the pulmonary embolism but causes other life-threatening conditions, it’s not very effective. With further research, experts hope to figure out exactly which patients, like those under 75 years old, should be treated with heparin plus clot-busting drugs or blood thinners alone.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are symptoms of pulmonary embolism?
  • Common signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, chest pain and a cough that produces blood. It’s important to seek medical attention if you have these symptoms, because pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment.
  • Who is at risk for pulmonary embolism?
  • Although anyone can develop blood clots leading to pulmonary embolism, it’s more common in individuals that are older, immobile for long periods of time, have undergone surgery, have a family history of blood clots, or have certain medical conditions (heart disease, pregnancy, cancer, previous blood clots). Certain lifestyle conditions can also increase your risk of pulmonary embolism, including smoking, being overweight, and taking supplemental estrogen.

Related

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Use of Heparin Drugs in Critically Ill Patients

Slight differences exist between 2 types of blood clot treatments. 

Research Sheds Light on How Long Anticoagulants Should Be Taken After Stenting

Patients taking clopidogrel (Plavix) for a long period don’t see any health benefits and actually have a higher risk of bleeding.

Resources to Help You Compare Treatment Options

Guidance from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in making health decisions