BACKGROUND: The use of non-vitamin K oral anticoagulants (NOACs) has increased steadily following marketing approval; however, their relative safety in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) patients in real-world clinical practice remains unclear.
OBJECTIVE: To compare the risk of major bleeding during anticoagulation therapy between warfarin and NOACs.
METHODS: This retrospective cohort study analyzed administrative claims data on new NVAF users of warfarin, dabigatran, apixaban, or rivaroxaban in routine clinical care from November 2010 to February 2015 in a commercially insured population in the United States. The primary outcome was time to first major bleeding event requiring hospitalization. Patients were followed until discontinuation or switch of anticoagulants, health plan disenrollment, death, or end of study. All patient characteristics were balanced after propensity score inverse probability of treatment (IPT) weighting. Event rates by type of anticoagulant exposure were compared using IPT-weighted Cox proportional hazards models.
RESULTS: The study cohort comprised 44,057 patients who used warfarin (n = 23,431), dabigatran (n = 8,539), apixaban (n = 3,689), and rivaroxaban (n = 8,398). Overall mean (SD) age was 70 (12) years, and 41% of the patients were women. A total of 2,337 major bleeding events occurred during 36,636.2 person-years of follow-up. The unadjusted rate of major bleeding with warfarin was 6.0 per 100 person-years versus 2.8 with dabigatran, 3.3 with apixban, and 5.0 with rivaroxaban. Relative to warfarin, major bleeding risk was lower with dabigatran (HR = 0.67, 95% CI = 0.60-0.76) and apixaban (HR = 0.52, 95% CI = 0.41-0.67). Compared with rivaroxaban, major bleeding risk was also lower with dabigatran (HR = 0.67, 95% CI = 0.58-0.78) and apixaban (HR = 0.52, 95% CI = 0.40-0.68). Major bleeding risk was similar for rivaroxaban and warfarin. Relative to apixaban, dabigatran was associated with a significantly higher risk of major gastrointestinal bleeding (HR = 1.43, 95% CI = 1.09-1.88).
CONCLUSIONS: Study results were consistent with safety findings from pivotal clinical trials comparing NOACs with warfarin and added the perspective of a large real-world observational study that compared bleeding risks associated with NOACs during anticoagulation therapy. Apixaban and dabigatran were associated with lower major bleeding risk compared with warfarin or rivaroxaban; however, apixaban had a lower risk of major gastrointestinal bleeding than dabigatran. These findings can help inform the choice of an optimal agent, which must balance effectiveness and bleeding risk in complex patients.