Acute pulmonary embolism: risk assessment, risk stratification and treatment options

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Abstract

Introduction:

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a potentially life-threatening cardiovascular emergency with a high mortality rate. Rapid diagnosis and treatment are important in optimising clinical outcomes in patients with PE, and anticoagulants are the mainstay of treatment. Traditionally, anticoagulant therapy involves parenteral anticoagulants, overlapping with and followed by oral vitamin K antagonists. Direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs), including the factor Xa inhibitors rivaroxaban, apixaban and edoxaban, and the direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran etexilate, have been developed to address limitations associated with traditional anticoagulant therapy. Apixaban, dabigatran and rivaroxaban have recently been approved for the treatment of acute deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and PE and prevention of recurrent DVT or PE. Edoxaban is approved in the United States but not currently in the European Union for the treatment of DVT and PE; approval of edoxaban in Europe is anticipated in the near future.

Objective:

To summarise the management of patients with suspected PE in accordance with recent guidelines, and to discuss the evidence behind the recent approvals of the DOACs for the treatment of PE.

Discussion:

Diagnosis and treatment of PE is guided by clinical probability scoring systems and tools for prognostic stratification and early mortality risk evaluation. Anticoagulants remain the mainstay of treatment. Successful phase III trials have demonstrated the efficacy of the DOACs for the treatment of DVT and PE, with a potentially improved safety profile, leading to their recent approval in this indication, and giving the clinician greater choice of anticoagulant therapies in this setting.

Conclusions:

DOACs offer an alternative and potentially simplified option for anticoagulation therapy in patients with PE compared with traditional anticoagulants and are likely to assist physicians in optimising management of patients with PE and improve clinical outcomes.

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