Vitamin K antagonists and emergencies

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Abstract

The recent emergence of ‘non-VKA’ oral anticoagulants may have led to some forgetting that vitamin K antagonists (VKA) are by far the most widely prescribed oral anticoagulants worldwide. Consequently, we decided to summarize the information available on them. This paper presents the problems facing emergency physicians confronted with patients on VKAs in 10 points, from pharmacological data to emergency management. Vitamin K antagonists remain preferable in many situations including in the elderly, in patients with extreme body weights, severe chronic kidney or liver disease or valvular heart disease, and in patients taking VKAs with well-controlled international normalized ratios (INRs). Given the way VKAs work, a stable anticoagulant state can only be achieved at the earliest 5 days after starting therapy. The induction phase of VKA treatment is associated with the highest risk of bleeding; validated algorithms based on INR values have to be followed. VKA asymptomatic overdoses and ‘non-severe’ hemorrhage are managed by omitting a dose or stopping treatment plus administering vitamin K depending on the INR. Major bleeding is managed using a VKA reversal strategy. A prothrombin complex concentrate infusion plus vitamin K is preferred to rapidly achieve an INR of up to 1.5 and maintain a normal coagulation profile. The INR must be measured 30 min after the infusion. Before an invasive procedure, if an INR of less than 1.5 (<1.3 in neurosurgery) is required, it can be achieved by combining prothrombin complex concentrate and vitamin K. A well-codified strategy is essential for managing patients requiring emergency invasive procedures or presenting bleeding complications.

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