Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) is a systemic autoimmune disease characterized by arterial or venous thrombosis (or both) and/or pregnancy morbidity in association with the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies. The prevalence is estimated at 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 people. The most common sites of thrombosis are cerebral arteries and deep veins of the lower limbs. People with a definite APS diagnosis have an increased lifetime risk of recurrent thrombotic events.
To assess the effects of antiplatelet or anticoagulant agents, or both, for the secondary prevention of recurrent thrombosis, particularly ischemic stroke, in people with antiphospholipid syndrome.
We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (February 2017), CENTRAL (last search February 2017), MEDLINE (from 1948 to February 2017), Embase (from 1980 to February 2017), and several ongoing trials registers. We also checked the reference lists of included studies, systematic reviews, and practice guidelines, and we contacted experts in the field.
We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated any anticoagulant or antiplatelet agent, or both, in the secondary prevention of thrombosis in people diagnosed with APS according to the criteria valid when the study took place. We did not include studies specifically addressing women with obstetrical APS.
Pairs of review authors independently selected studies for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed the risk of bias for the included studies. We resolved any discrepancies through discussion or by consulting a third review author and, in addition, one review author checked all the extracted data.
We included five studies involving 419 randomized participants with APS. Only one study was at low risk of bias in all domains. One study was at low risk of bias in all domains for objective outcomes but not for quality of life (measured using the EQ-5D-5L questionnaire). We judged the other three studies to be at unclear or high risk of bias in three or more domains.The duration of intervention ranged from 180 days to a mean of 3.9 years. One study compared rivaroxaban (a novel oral anticoagulant: NOAC) with standard warfarin treatment and reported no thrombotic or major bleeding events, but it was not powered to detect such differences (low-quality evidence). Investigators reported similar rates of clinically relevant non-major bleeding (risk ratio (RR) 1.45, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.25 to 8.33; moderate-quality evidence) and minor bleeding (RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.51 to 2.83) for participants receiving rivaroxaban and the standard vitamin K antagonists (VKA). This study also reported some small benefit with rivaroxaban over the standard VKA treatment in terms of quality of life health state measured at 180 days with the EQ-5D-5L 100 mm visual analogue scale (mean difference (MD) 7 mm, 95% CI 2.01 to 11.99; low-quality evidence) but not measured as health utility (MD 0.04, 95% CI -0.02 to 0.10 [on a scale from 0 to 1]).Two studies compared high dose VKA (warfarin) with moderate/standard intensity VKA and found no differences in the rates of any thrombotic events (RR 2.22, 95% CI 0.79 to 6.23) or major bleeding (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.24 to 2.25) between the groups (low-quality evidence). Minor bleeding analyzed using the RR and any bleeding using the hazard ratio (HR) were more frequent in participants receiving high-intensity warfarin treatment compared to the standard-intensity therapy (RR 2.55, 95% CI 1.07 to 6.07; and HR 2.03, 95% CI 1.12 to 3.68; low-quality evidence).In one study, it was not possible to estimate the RR for stroke with a combination of VKA plus antiplatelet agent compared to a single antiplatelet agent, while for major bleeding, a single event occurred in the single antiplatelet agent group. In one study, comparing combined VKA plus antiplatelet agent with dual antiplatelet therapy, the RR of the risk of stroke over three years of observation was 5.00 (95% CI 0.26 to 98.0). In a single small study, the RR for stroke during one year of observation with a dual antiplatelet therapy compared to single antiplatelet drug was 0.14 (95% CI 0.01 to 2.60).
There is not enough evidence for or against NOACs or for high-intensity VKA compared to the standard VKA therapy in the secondary prevention of thrombosis in people with APS. There is some evidence of harm for high-intensity VKA regarding minor and any bleeding. The evidence was also not sufficient to show benefit or harm for VKA plus antiplatelet agent or dual antiplatelet therapy compared to a single antiplatelet drug. Future studies should be adequately powered, with proper adherence to treatment, in order to evaluate the effects of anticoagulants, antiplatelets, or both, for secondary thrombosis prevention in APS. We have identified five ongoing trials mainly using NOACs in APS, so increasing experimental efforts are likely to yield additional evidence of clinical relevance in the near future.