A conceptual framework for two phases of anticoagulant treatment of venous thromboembolism
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Four observations support that anticoagulant therapy for venous thromboembolism (VTE) has an 'active treatment' phase that is limited to about 3 months. First, <3 months of treatment is associated with a higher risk of recurrent VTE than treatment for 3 months or longer, suggesting that <3 months is inadequate therapy. Second, treatment for 3 months is associated with the same risk of recurrent VTE as treatment for 6 months or longer, suggesting that 3 months is adequate therapy. Third, the increase in recurrent VTE with too short a course of treatment is predominantly at the site of the initial thrombosis, suggesting reactivation of initial thrombosis. Fourth, the increase in recurrent VTE with too short a course of treatment occurs immediately after treatment is stopped and is short lived, again suggesting reactivation of initial thrombosis. Once the initial thrombosis has been adequately treated (i.e. the first phase of treatment), further anticoagulation serves as 'secondary prevention' of new, unrelated, episodes of thrombosis (i.e. the second phase of treatment). For most patients, therefore, anticoagulant therapy for VTE should be stopped at 3 months when the acute episode has completed treatment, or should be continued indefinitely as 'secondary prevention' if the risk of recurrence remains unacceptably high having completed 'active treatment'.
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