Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a prevalent, potentially fatal health problem. Although standard anticoagulant therapy is effective when compared with the newer direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs), it has disadvantages. Heparin and its derivatives must be administered parenterally, whereas use of oral vitamin K antagonists is complicated by unpredictable pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, drug-food and drug-drug interactions and the requirement for frequent laboratory monitoring. Randomized phase 3 trials have demonstrated that patients receive similarly effective anticoagulation with the DOACs dabigatran, edoxaban, rivaroxaban and apixaban when compared with warfarin, with similar or reduced risk of bleeding. Extended therapy trials have consistently demonstrated superior effectiveness for DOAC treatment when compared with placebo in preventing VTE recurrence. This article presents a comprehensive review of the pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and accumulated clinical trial evidence for each DOAC for short-term, long-term and extended VTE therapy, and it considers the potential implications these agents have for the clinical management of VTE.