Antiplatelet versus anticoagulation treatment for patients with heart failure in sinus rhythm


Blood clots can be formed by clotting proteins (coagulation factors) and sticky blood cells (platelets). Oral anticoagulants such as warfarin are drugs that can prevent clot formation by blocking the clotting proteins. Other drugs, like aspirin, can also reduce clotting by blocking the platelets. Warfarin is better than aspirin in patients with heart failure who have abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation). Aspirin is known to be helpful in patients with heart failure with normal (sinus) rhythm, whose heart arteries are narrowed. This condition is a common cause of heart failure, so doctors often advise patients with a normal rhythm to take aspirin. Arguably, people with heart failure with a normal rhythm are at increased risk of clotting due to slower blood flow in the heart, similarly to people with an abnormal rhythm. Also, blood clots (thromboembolism) in the lungs, legs and brain (ischaemic stroke) lead to disability and death of patients with heart failure. Several studies have tried to find out whether all heart failure patients should receive oral anticoagulants, but the debate is still open.

Study characteristics

This is an update of an earlier review. The evidence is current to September 2015. We only identified one new study with 2305 participants. In total, we analysed four randomised controlled studies with 4187 participants.

Key results

The comparison of warfarin with aspirin was based on a large number of patients from four high-quality studies. The analysis showed an almost identical risk of death with both drugs. There was not enough evidence to prove benefits of warfarin over aspirin to reduce the possibility of clotting complications, such as a heart attack or stroke. However, patients receiving warfarin experienced serious bleeding twice as often as those taking aspirin. A comparison of warfarin with another antiplatelet drug, clopidogrel, was based on a single medium size study, and it showed similar results: no difference in occurrence of death or clotting complications, but a higher chance of developing of a serious bleed.


There is currently no evidence to suggest advantages of warfarin over antiplatelet drugs in heart failure with a normal rhythm. Moreover, treatment with warfarin leads to more bleeding events than aspirin or clopidogrel. It is unlikely that further studies will change these conclusions unless new, more effective and safe drugs become available.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is evidence from RCTs to suggest that neither oral anticoagulation with warfarin or platelet inhibition with aspirin is better for mortality in systolic heart failure with sinus rhythm (high quality of the evidence for all-cause mortality and moderate quality of the evidence for non-fatal cardiovascular events and major bleeding events). Treatment with warfarin was associated with a 20% reduction in non-fatal cardiovascular events but a twofold higher risk of major bleeding complications (high quality of the evidence). We saw a similar pattern of results for the warfarin versus clopidogrel comparison (low quality of the evidence). At present, there are no data on the role of oral anticoagulation versus antiplatelet agents in heart failure with preserved ejection fraction with sinus rhythm. Also, there were no data from RCTs on the utility of non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulants compared to antiplatelet agents in heart failure with sinus rhythm.

Read the full abstract...

Morbidity in patients with chronic heart failure is high, and this predisposes them to thrombotic complications, including stroke and thromboembolism, which in turn contribute to high mortality. Oral anticoagulants (e.g. warfarin) and antiplatelet agents (e.g. aspirin) are the principle oral antithrombotic agents. Many heart failure patients with sinus rhythm take aspirin because coronary artery disease is the leading cause of heart failure. Oral anticoagulants have become a standard in the management of heart failure with atrial fibrillation. However, a question remains regarding the appropriateness of oral anticoagulants in heart failure with sinus rhythm. This update of a review previously published in 2012 aims to address this question.


To assess the effects of oral anticoagulant therapy versus antiplatelet agents for all-cause mortality, non-fatal cardiovascular events and risk of major bleeding in adults with heart failure (either with reduced or preserved ejection fraction) who are in sinus rhythm.

Search strategy: 

We updated the searches in September 2015 on CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library), MEDLINE and Embase. We searched reference lists of papers and abstracts from cardiology meetings and contacted study authors for further information. We did not apply any language restrictions. Additionally, we searched two clinical trials registers: ( and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) Search Portal (searched in July 2016).

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials comparing antiplatelet therapy versus oral anticoagulation in adults with chronic heart failure in sinus rhythm. Treatment had to last at least one month. We compared orally administered antiplatelet agents (aspirin, ticlopidine, clopidogrel, prasugrel, ticagrelor, dipyridamole) versus anticoagulant agents (coumarins, warfarin, non-vitamin K oral anticoagulants).

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and assessed the risks and benefits of antithrombotic versus antiplatelet therapy using relative measures of effects, such as risk ratios (RR), accompanied with 95% confidence intervals (CI). The data extracted included data relating to the study design, patient characteristics, study eligibility, quality, and outcomes. We used GRADE criteria to assess the quality of the evidence.

Main results: 

This update identified one additional study for inclusion, adding data for 2305 participants. This addition more than doubled the overall number of patients eligible for the review. In total, we included four randomised controlled trials (RCTs) with a total of 4187 eligible participants. All studies compared warfarin with aspirin. One RCT additionally compared warfarin with clopidogrel. All included RCTs studied patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

Analysis of all outcomes for warfarin versus aspirin was based on 3663 patients from four RCTs. All-cause mortality was similar for warfarin and aspirin (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.13; 4 studies; 3663 participants; moderate quality evidence). Oral anticoagulation was associated with a reduction in non-fatal cardiovascular events, which included non-fatal stroke, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, peripheral arterial embolism (RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.00; 4 studies; 3663 participants; moderate quality evidence). The rate of major bleeding events was twice as high in the warfarin groups (RR 2.00, 95% CI 1.44 to 2.78; 4 studies; 3663 participants; moderate quality evidence). We generally considered the risk of bias of the included studies to be low.

Analysis of warfarin versus clopidogrel was based on a single RCT (N = 1064). All-cause mortality was similar for warfarin and clopidogrel (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.21; 1 study; 1064 participants; low quality evidence). There were similar rates of non-fatal cardiovascular events (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.50 to 1.45; 1 study; 1064 participants; low quality evidence). The rate of major bleeding events was 2.5 times higher in the warfarin group (RR 2.47, 95% CI 1.24 to 4.91; 1 study; 1064 participants; low quality evidence). Risk of bias for this study can be summarised as low.

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