To determine the safety and efficacy of non-vitamin K oral anticoagulants (NOACs) initiated early after cardiac surgery.
Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE, and MEDLINE (database inception to January 20, 2021),,, NOAC trial registries, and bibliographies of relevant guidelines and other reviews were used.
Observational studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that initiated NOACs within the index hospitalization and that reported bleeding for the primary outcome were included.
A total of 6 cohort studies, 1 RCT, and 3 ongoing RCTs were included. Most studies were single-centered, limited to postoperative atrial fibrillation after coronary artery bypass grafting, and with 30-day follow-up; few studies included patients with isolated bioprosthetic valve replacement or valve repair. Bleeding risk varied (0%-28.6%), and all but one study showed no significantly higher risk with NOAC compared with warfarin.
Overall, NOACs were used in 26% to 37.5% of patients early after cardiac surgery. Starting a NOAC on postoperative day 4 appeared to have similar bleeding rates compared with warfarin, but clinical application is limited by heterogeneity of outcome definitions, confounding, and bias. Compared with warfarin, NOACs may have similar thromboembolism risk, reduced length of stay, and cost.
There is limited evidence to guide NOAC use early after cardiac surgery. Three ongoing randomized trials will add to the literature and provide guidance for clinicians on whether, in whom, when, and how to use NOACs safely early after cardiac surgery.