In a new study, researchers found that patients given preventive blood-thinning drugs (prophylactic anticoagulants) within 24 hours of admission to hospital with COVID-19 are less likely to die.
The research was conducted by a team of UK and US researchers.
Some COVID deaths are believed to be due to blood clots developing in major veins and arteries.
Anticoagulants prevent blood clots from forming and have antiviral and potent anti-inflammatory properties, so might be particularly effective in patients with COVID-19, but results from previous studies have been inconclusive.
In the study, the team set out to estimate the effect of prophylactic anticoagulants on the risk of death and severe bleeding in patients with COVID-19.
Their findings are based on data from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs for 4,297 patients (average age 68 years; 93% men) admitted to hospital with COVID-19 between 1 March and 31 July 2020.
The researchers then followed these patients to see who died or experienced a serious bleeding event within 30 days of hospital admission.
A total of 3,627 (84.4%) of patients received prophylactic anticoagulation within 24 hours of admission and there were 622 deaths (14.5%) within 30 days.
The team found the death at 30 days was 14.3% among those who received prophylactic anticoagulation compared with 18.7% among those who did not.
This benefit seemed to be greater among patients not admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) within 24 hours of hospital admission.
Receiving prophylactic anticoagulation was not linked to an increased risk of serious bleeding.
These findings provide strong real-world evidence to support guidelines recommending the use of prophylactic anticoagulation as initial treatment for patients with COVID-19 on hospital admission.
Clinical trials are now underway to see if prophylactic anticoagulants could be an effective treatment for COVID-19.
In the meantime, the researchers say these findings provide strong real-world evidence to support their early use among patients in hospital with COVID-19.
One author of the study is Christopher T Rentsch from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The study is published in The BMJ.
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