Comparative effectiveness and safety of oral anticoagulants for atrial fibrillation: A retrospective cohort study

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Anne Holbrook
Richard Morrow
Agnes Lee
Gary Foster
Eleanor Pullenyegum


DOACs, Warfarin, Atrial Fibrillation, Cohort Study, Propensity score adjustment


Oral anticoagulants (OACs) are high-priority medications, frequently used with clinically important benefit and serious harm. Our objective was to compare the safety and effectiveness of direct-acting oral anticoagulants (DOACs) versus warfarin in a population where anticoagulation management and DOACs were readily available. A retrospective cohort study of all adults living in British Columbia with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation and a first prescription for an OAC was conducted. Co-primary outcomes were ischemic stroke and systemic embolism, and major bleeding. Secondary outcomes included a net clinical outcome composite and analysis of discontinuation, switching, and key subgroups. We estimated the effects of treatment using time-to-event models with high-dimen-sional propensity score adjustment to control confounding. After adjustment for prescribing bias, a cohort (n = 20,113, 43.8% female, mean age 72.4 years) with a mean follow-up of 18.1 months showed that patients taking warfarin tended to be poorer, sicker, and less likely to have a cardiologist prescriber. Outcome event rates were not significantly different for DOACs compared to warfarin [adjusted rate ratio of 1.15 (0.91, 1.46) for systemic embolism, 0.94 (0.82, 1.08) for major bleeding, and 0.98 (0.90, 1.06) for net clinical outcome]. Only the effect of age on net clinical outcome met our strict criteria for predicting which group might be superior. Switch of drug class was associ-ated with increased risk of events (p < 0.003). In this population, we found no difference in important clinical outcomes between warfarin and DOACs. Switching compared to not switch-ing was associated with harm.

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