How to manage bleeding in patients taking direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs)


Bottom line

For the majority of bleeding patients on DOACs, supportive care with transfusions and local hemostatic interventions to control bleeding will likely be sufficient. Because of the short half-lives of DOACs, most patients do not require additional therapy (Table 2), and these patients actually have better outcomes from major bleeding episodes than patients taking VKAs. Antifibrinolytics should be a first-line prohemostatic therapy in major bleeding. Oral activated charcoal may be effective within 2-8 hours after ingestion for reduction of serum DOAC concentrations. Finally, in cases of life-threatening bleeding, idarucizumab can be used to reverse anticoagulation for patients taking dabigatran. When idarucizumab is unavailable, or for patients taking Xa inhibitors, PCC can be used.

Dr. Hagan is chief medical resident at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Dr. Albert is clinical instructor of medicine at UWMC. Dr. Garcia is professor of medicine and associate medical director of antithrombotic therapy at UWMC. Dr. Huang is an attending with the UWMC Medicine Consult Service and assistant clinical professor in the division of general internal medicine at UW.

Key Points

• The risk of major bleeding, and the case fatality rate of major bleeding, is significantly lower in patients taking DOACs versus VKAs

• For the majority of patients with bleeding on DOACs, withholding anticoagulation and supportive care is sufficient

• Idarucizumab is a novel and effective antidote to dabigatran, but should be reserved for patients with life-threatening bleeding

• Patients with DOAC-associated bleeding should be restarted on anticoagulation as soon as it is safe to do so

Additional Reading

Management of bleeding in patients receiving direct oral anticoagulants. UpToDate 2016.

How do I treat target-specific oral anticoagulant-associated bleeding? Blood 2014.


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Table 1: Pharmacologic Profiles of Xa and Direct Thrombin Inhibitors4-8, 23

tmax t1/2, CrCl 50-80 t1/2 CrCl < 30 Dialyzable?

Apixaban 3-4 h 15 h 17 h No

Dabigatran 1-3 h 17 h 28 h Yes

Edoxaban 1-2 h 10-14 h no data No

Rivaroxaban 2-4 h 9 h 10 h No

tmax = time to peak serum concentration after ingestion, t1/2= serum half-life, CrCl= creatinine clearance in mL/min

*Average values assuming normal hepatic function. Aside from dabigatran, which has minimal hepatic clearance, all other DOACs can have prolonged half-lives in hepatic impairment.

Table 2: Management of Bleeding Patients Taking DOACs

Direct Thrombin Inhibitors (dabigatran)

Xa inhibitors (apixaban, edoxaban, rivaroxaban)Minor Bleeding

• Withhold DOAC

• Local hemostatic measures

Major Bleeding*

All of the above, AND

• Antifibrinolytic if bleeding persists

• Restore physiologic perfusion

• Charcoal if last dose within 2-8 hours

• Transfusion indications:

o Red blood cells: anemia

o Platelets: antiplatelet agents or thrombocytopenia

o Plasma: coagulopathy (dilution, DIC, liver failure), not for DOAC reversal

Life-threatening Bleeding**

All of the above, AND:

• Idarucizumab (confirm anticoagulant effect with thrombin time first)

• If idarucizumab is unavailable, use PCC

• Consider hemodialysis until hemostasis achieved, especially if patient in renal failure

All of the above, AND:

• Unactivated PCC (if available and calibrated to specific Xa inhibitor, confirm anticoagulant effect with anti-Xa level)

* Adapted from the International Society on Thrombosis and Hemostasis: bleeding with a fall in hemoglobin level ≥ 2 g/dL, OR bleeding leading to ≥ 2 units of PRBC transfused.21 Clinicians should perform risk stratification of bleeding episodes using vital signs, laboratory results, the area of bleeding, and patient comorbidities.

**Uncontrolled bleeding, OR symptomatic bleeding in a critical area or organ (such as intracranial, intraocular, intraspinal, retroperitoneal, pericardial, or intramuscular with compartment syndrome).


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