Since 1992, recommended treatment time for anticoagulants, or blood thinners, has been set at three months' maximum, and yet doctors still regularly prescribe them for a six-month period.
The patient gets no benefit from the extended therapy - in fact, he or she is more likely to die, or suffer a recurrence or hemorrhage, than if he stopped the drug therapy after the recommended three months.
The difference has been underlined in yet another trial, which tested the two treatment periods on a group of 749 DVT or pulmonary embolism patients. After a year, 19 of those who had the six months' treatment had died, compared with 14 in the three-month trial group, while 35 suffered some serious reaction from the treatment - usually a major hemorrhage - after the six months' therapy, as against 31 in the three months' trial.
Not that anticoagulants are especially safe even when given over a short time. The UK's National Patient Safety Agency has revealed that, last year, 120 people in the UK died and a further 480 suffered 'serious harm' after being given warfarin. These deaths and reactions were mainly due to doctor error and a failure to monitor the patient after prescribing a powerful dose of the drug.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2007; 334: 674-7, and 714).
E-news broadcast 20 April 2007 No.352 [Subscribe]