Anticoagulants and pregnancy: When are they safe?

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Outside of pregnancy, oral anticoagulants are the mainstay of therapy for patients with mechanical heart valves. Unfortunately, as discussed above, the use of these agents during pregnancy carries a risk of teratogenicity and toxic fetal effects and increases the risk of pregnancy loss and maternal hemorrhage. Heparins have been used in this setting for many years, but data on their efficacy and safety are very limited, and there are numerous reports of catastrophic maternal thrombotic complications. 79,80

A systematic review of anticoagulation in pregnant women with prosthetic heart valves 34 found very limited data on heparin use throughout pregnancy. Women maintained on warfarin vs heparin between pregnancy weeks 6 and 12 had higher rates of congenital anomalies (6.4% with warfarin vs 3.4% with heparin) and total fetal wastage (33.6% vs 26.5%). The warfarin group had fewer maternal thromboembolic complications (3.9% vs 9.2%), however, and a slightly lower rate of maternal death (1.8% vs 4.2%). Most of the women had higher-risk older-generation valves in the mitral position.

Recent data on LMWH consist mainly of case reports and case series, 81 with a likely bias to publication of worse outcomes. Controlled trials in this area will be difficult to conduct. Still, aggressive anticoagulation with LMWH or unfractionated heparin, with close monitoring of the intensity of anticoagulation, may be safe and effective for pregnant women with newer-generation mechanical heart valves. 82 A recent consensus statement 22 suggested several regimens for pregnant women with mechanical heart valves:

  • Twice-daily LMWH throughout pregnancy, with the dose adjusted either by weight, or to keep the 4-hour postinjection anti-factor-Xa activity level around 1.0 to 1.2 U/mL
  • Aggressive adjusted-dose unfractionated heparin throughout pregnancy, given subcutaneously every 12 hours and adjusted to keep the mid-interval aPTT at least twice the control value or to attain a mid-interval anti-factor-Xa activity level of 0.35 to 0.70 U/mL
  • Unfractionated heparin or LMWH (as above) until gestation week 13, then warfarin until the middle of the third trimester, and then heparin again. 22

The authors also recommended adding low-dose aspirin (75–162 mg/day) in high-risk women. 22

These options all seem reasonable, given our current knowledge, though warfarin use during pregnancy should be restricted to very-high-risk situations, such as women with older-generation mitral prostheses. LM-WHs may become the preferred therapy for this indication once further controlled data regarding their efficacy and safety become available.


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