Sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: oral long-term anticoagulation in dialysis patients

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Abstract

End-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients exhibit an increased risk of bleeding compared with non-chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients due to uraemic platelet dysfunction, altered vessel architecture and other factors. This renders any long-term oral anticoagulation potentially difficult. While there is little doubt that ESRD patients with recurrent thromboembolism or a mechanical cardiac valve should receive vitamin K antagonists (coumarins), the use of coumarins in ESRD patients with atrial fibrillation is a matter of debate. In non-CKD patients, current guidelines strongly recommend the use of oral anticoagulants for stroke prophylaxis in atrial fibrillation if certain risk factors are present (CHA2DS2-VASc score). This recommendation is often extrapolated to patients with advanced CKD or ESRD but data supporting this practice are weak to absent. Besides an increased bleeding risk in ESRD patients, coumarins will also accelerate cardiovascular calcification and are potent risk factors for the development of calcific uraemic arteriolopathy (calciphylaxis). Novel coumarin alternatives such as direct thrombin inhibitors are promising but none is currently approved for use in ESRD patients. Whether interventional treatment strategies such as atrial appendage occlusion are safe and effective options in advanced CKD is also as yet unresolved. This review attempts to balance the potential risks and benefits of coumarin usage in ESRD patients and to give the best possible recommendations for everyday patient care.

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