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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 148 No. 1112 (2018)

How I manage patients with anticoagulation-associated bleeding or urgent surgery

  • Thomas C. Sauter
  • Balthasar Eberle
  • Walter A. Wuillemin
  • Thomas Thiele
  • Anne Angelillo-Scherrer
  • Aristomenis K. Exadaktylos
  • Gabor Erdoes
  • Adam Cuker
  • Michael Nagler
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2018;148:w14598


Antithrombotic treatment puts patients at risk of major bleeding. Fast and adequate response to anticoagulant-associated bleeding may not only stop the bleeding but prevent severe complications. However, practical treatment algorithms to guide physicians in emergency situations are lacking. Important principles that arise from management of bleeding in general are (a) implementation of an in-house algorithm, (b) rapid identification and treatment of the bleeding source, (c) adequate fluid resuscitation, (d) consideration of the application of tranexamic acid and (e) appropriate coagulation testing. We present an algorithm for anticoagulant-associated bleeding and urgent surgery, derived from available data and recommendations, and implemented at our institution. Decisions regarding reversal agents or postponing surgery are based on two questions: the occurrence of a life-threatening bleed or urgent indication for surgery, and the presence of a relevant drug level. Immediate application of reversal agents is suggested if the clinical situation is urgent and laboratory test results are delayed or unavailable. A relevant anticoagulant drug level is required in all other cases. We discuss appropriate laboratory assays for all commonly available anticoagulants, report respective target ranges or expected values, discuss time intervals before surgery, and present critical cut-off values to be used as decision criteria. Specific and unspecific reversal agents for all anticoagulants including the direct oral anticoagulants will be presented. We aim to provide practical guidance for physicians in emergency situations. In addition, we summarise and discuss available experimental and clinical data as well as recommendations provided by scientific societies, authorities and manufacturers.


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