Drug Treatment of Venous Thromboembolism in the Elderly

Jir Ping Boey, Alexander Gallus

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Half of all patients with acute venous thromboembolism are aged over 70 years; they then face the added hazard of an age-related increase in the incidence of major bleeding. This makes it even more important to weigh the balance of benefit and risk when considering anticoagulant treatment and treatment duration. Traditional treatment with a heparin (usually low molecular weight) followed by a vitamin K antagonist such as warfarin is effective but is often complicated, especially in the elderly. The direct-acting oral anticoagulants (DOACs), i.e. the thrombin inhibitor dabigatran and the factor Xa inhibitors rivaroxaban, apixaban and edoxaban, are given in fixed doses, do not need laboratory monitoring, have fewer drug–drug interactions and are therefore much easier to take. Randomised trials, their meta-analyses and ‘real-world’ data indicate the DOACs are no less effective than warfarin (are non-inferior) and probably cause less major bleeding (especially intracranial). It seems the relative safety of DOACs extends to age above 65 or 70 years, although bleeding becomes more likely regardless of the chosen anticoagulant. Renal impairment, comorbidities (especially cancer) and interventions are special hazards. Ways to minimise bleeding include patient selection and follow-up, education about venous thromboembolism, anticoagulants, drug interactions, regular checks on adherence and avoiding needlessly prolonged treatment. The relatively short circulating half-lives of DOACs mean that time, local measures and supportive care are the main response to major bleeding. They also simplify the management of invasive interventions. An antidote for dabigatran, idarucizumab, was recently approved by regulators, and a general antidote for factor Xa inhibitors is in advanced development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-490
Number of pages16
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • venous thromboembolism
  • Drug Treatment
  • in the Elderly
  • major bleeding
  • anticoagulant treatment
  • oral anticoagulants


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