Anticoagulants and pregnancy: When are they safe?

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Several newer anticoagulants can be used in pregnancy ( Table 3 ).47–50


The heparinoid danaparoid (Orgaran) is an LMWH, a combination of heparan, dermatan, and chondroitin sulfate. Since it is derived from heparin, in theory it can cross-react with antiheparin antibodies, but this is generally not a problem. Danaparoid inhibits factor Xa, and monitoring is via measurement of anti-factor-Xa activity levels. It has been shown to be safe and effective in nonpregnant patients with heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. 51

Although no controlled study has been published on danaparoid in pregnancy, at least 51 pregnancies in 49 patients treated with danaparoid have been reported. 52 Thirty-two of the patients received danaparoid because of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia and 19 because of heparin-induced skin intolerance. These reports suggest that danaparoid does not cross the placenta 53 and that it may be effective and safe during pregnancy. 54 For this reason, it is probably the preferred anticoagulant in pregnant patients with heparin-induced thrombocytopenia or other serious reactions to heparin.

Unfortunately, danaparoid has two major disadvantages. First, it has a prolonged half-life and no effective reversing agent, which makes its use problematic close to the time of delivery. Second, and perhaps more relevant to this discussion, it is not readily available in the United States; it was removed from the market by its manufacturer in April 2002 for business reasons rather than because of concerns over toxicity. It is still available in Canada and Europe, and it can be obtained in special circumstances in the United States via the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA); this may be worthwhile in pregnant patients who require a nonurgent alternative to heparin.

Direct thrombin inhibitors

Lepirudin (Refludan), bivalirudin (Angiomax), and argatroban are direct thrombin inhibitors and exert their anticoagulant effect independently of antithrombin. They are given by continuous intravenous infusion, and they have a very short half-life.

Lepirudin and argatroban are typically monitored via the aPTT. Bivalirudin can be monitored with the activated clotting time, partial thromboplastin time, or INR, depending on the circumstances. None of these agents generates or cross-reacts with antibodies generated in heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. None has an antidote, but the short half-life usually obviates the need for one.

Unfortunately, pregnancy data are very sparse for all three of these new agents. Argatroban has a low molecular weight and likely crosses the placenta. Also, because these agents are given intravenously, they are not practical for long-term use in pregnancy.


Fondaparinux (Arixtra), a direct factor Xa inhibitor, binds to antithrombin, causing an irreversible conformational change that increases antithrombin’s ability to inactivate factor Xa (as do the heparins). It has no effect on factor IIa (thrombin) and does not predictably affect the aPTT. Its half-life is 17 hours, and no agent is known to reverse its anticoagulant effect, although some experts would recommend a trial of high-dose recombinant factor VIIa (Novo-Seven) in uncontrolled hemorrhage.

While not FDA-approved for treating heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, it has been used for this in some patients. 55–58 Animal studies and in vitro human placental perfusion studies suggest that fondaparinux does not cross the placenta in significant amounts. 49 Since danaparoid is not available in the United States, fondaparinux would likely be the first choice among the newer anticoagulants when treating heparin-induced thrombocytopenia in pregnancy.

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