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Prophylactic anticoagulants for people hospitalised with COVID-19

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Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a serious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The primary manifestation is respiratory insufficiency that can also be related to diffuse pulmonary microthrombosis in people with COVID-19. This disease also causes thromboembolic events, such as pulmonary embolism, deep venous thrombosis, arterial thrombosis, catheter thrombosis, and disseminated intravascular coagulopathy. Recent studies have indicated a worse prognosis for people with COVID-19 who developed thromboembolism. Anticoagulants are medications used in the prevention and treatment of venous or arterial thromboembolic events. Several drugs are used in the prophylaxis and treatment of thromboembolic events, such as heparinoids (heparins or pentasaccharides), vitamin K antagonists and direct anticoagulants. Besides their anticoagulant properties, heparinoids have an additional anti-inflammatory potential, that may affect the clinical evolution of people with COVID-19. Some practical guidelines address the use of anticoagulants for thromboprophylaxis in people with COVID-19, however, the benefit of anticoagulants for people with COVID-19 is still under debate. Objectives: To assess the effects of prophylactic anticoagulants versus active comparator, placebo or no intervention, on mortality and the need for respiratory support in people hospitalised with COVID-19. Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS and IBECS databases, the Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register and medRxiv preprint database from their inception to 20 June 2020. We also checked reference lists of any relevant systematic reviews identified and contacted specialists in the field for additional references to trials. Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-RCTs, cluster-RCTs and cohort studies that compared prophylactic anticoagulants (heparin, vitamin K antagonists, direct anticoagulants, and pentasaccharides) versus active comparator, placebo or no intervention for the management of people hospitalised with COVID-19. We excluded studies without a comparator group. Primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and need for additional respiratory support. Secondary outcomes were mortality related to COVID-19, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, major bleeding, adverse events, length of hospital stay and quality of life. Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane methodological procedures. We used ROBINS-I to assess risk of bias for non-randomised studies (NRS) and GRADE to assess the certainty of evidence. We reported results narratively. Main results: We identified no RCTs or quasi-RCTs that met the inclusion criteria. We included seven retrospective NRS (5929 participants), three of which were available as preprints. Studies were conducted in China, Italy, Spain and the USA. All of the studies included people hospitalised with COVID-19, in either intensive care units, hospital wards or emergency departments. The mean age of participants (reported in 6 studies) ranged from 59 to 72 years. Only three included studies reported the follow-up period, which varied from 8 to 35 days. The studies did not report on most of our outcomes of interest: need for additional respiratory support, mortality related to COVID-19, DVT, pulmonary embolism, adverse events, and quality of life.

Anticoagulants (all types) versus no treatment (6 retrospective NRS, 5685 participants). One study reported a reduction in all-cause mortality (adjusted odds ratio (OR) 0.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.26 to 0.66; 2075 participants). One study reported a reduction in mortality only in a subgroup of 395 people who required mechanical ventilation (hazard ratio (HR) 0.86, 95% CI 0.82 to 0.89). Three studies reported no differences in mortality (adjusted OR 1.64, 95% CI 0.92 to 2.92; 449 participants; unadjusted OR 1.66, 95% CI 0.76 to 3.64; 154 participants and adjusted risk ratio (RR) 1.15, 95% CI 0.29 to 2.57; 192 participants). One study reported zero events in both intervention groups (42 participants). The overall risk of bias for all-cause mortality was critical and the certainty of the evidence was very low. One NRS reported bleeding events in 3% of the intervention group and 1.9% of the control group (OR 1.62, 95% CI 0.96 to 2.71; 2773 participants; low-certainty evidence).

Therapeutic-dose anticoagulants versus prophylactic-dose anticoagulants (1 retrospective NRS, 244 participants). The study reported a reduction in all-cause mortality (adjusted HR 0.21, 95% CI 0.10 to 0.46) and a lower absolute rate of death in the therapeutic group (34.2% versus 53%). The overall risk of bias for all-cause mortality was serious and the certainty of the evidence was low. The study also reported bleeding events in 31.7% of the intervention group and 20.5% of the control group (OR 1.8, 95% CI 0.96 to 3.37; low-certainty evidence).

Ongoing studies. We found 22 ongoing studies in hospital settings (20 RCTs, 14,730 participants; 2 NRS, 997 participants) in 10 different countries (Australia (1), Brazil (1), Canada (2), China (3), France (2), Germany (1), Italy (4), Switzerland (1), UK (1) and USA (6)). Twelve ongoing studies plan to report mortality and six plan to report additional respiratory support. Thirteen studies are expected to be completed in December 2020 (6959 participants), eight in July 2021 (8512 participants), and one in December 2021 (256 participants). Four of the studies plan to include 1000 participants or more. Authors' conclusions: There is currently insufficient evidence to determine the risks and benefits of prophylactic anticoagulants for people hospitalised with COVID-19. Since there are 22 ongoing studies that plan to evaluate more than 15,000 participants in this setting, we will add more robust evidence to this review in future updates.




Flumignan, R. L. G., Tinôco, J. D. de S., Pascoal, P. I. F., Areias, L. L., Cossi, M. S., Fernandes, M. I. C. D., … Nakano, L. C. U. (2020). Prophylactic anticoagulants for people hospitalised with COVID-19. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2020(9).

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