We evaluated the evidence about whether giving antifibrinolytics (tranexamic acid or epsilon-aminocaproic acid) to people with a low platelet count prevents bleeding and whether these antifibrinolytics are associated with side effects. Our target population was people with haematological disorders who have a low platelet count and would usually be treated with platelet transfusions. We did not include people with immune thrombocytopenia because they are not usually treated with platelet transfusions.
People with haematological (blood) cancers and other blood disorders (for example, aplastic anaemia) are frequently at risk of severe or life-threatening bleeding from having low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia). This may be from bone marrow failure due to an underlying blood disorder but also from the toxic effect of treatment (chemotherapy) on the bone marrow. These people can be given prophylactic platelet transfusions (from donations) to prevent bleeding if their own platelet counts are too low. These transfusions are not without risks, ranging from mild reactions like fevers to more serious, or even life-threatening, consequences such as infections transmitted to the patient from the transfused platelets, despite stringent attempts to prevent this.
Clearly, ways to safely prevent bleeding in people with thrombocytopenia whilst also minimising exposure to transfused platelets would be welcome. One possible way of achieving these goals is the use of antifibrinolytics, known as lysine analogues: tranexamic acid (TXA) and epsilon aminocaproic acid (EACA). These medications help to stabilise the clots that form after bleeding, therefore reducing the chances of further bleeding as well as the need for transfusing platelets. There may be risks associated with the use of TXA and EACA; the most important being an increased risk of forming unwanted blood clots (such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which could be potentially life-threatening.
The evidence is current to March 2016. In this update, seven randomised controlled trials were identified. Three trials are either not yet recruiting or still recruiting participants and and have not been completed. Four randomised controlled trials with a total of 95 participants were reviewed. These trials were conducted between 1983 and 1995. Data from one of the trials (eight participants) was excluded from the outcome analysis because the conduct of the study was so flawed.
All three trials (86 participants) included in the outcome analysis were of adults with acute leukaemia receiving chemotherapy. None of the studies included children.
One of these three studies reported funding sources and this study was funded by a charity.
In people with haematological disorders who have a low platelet count and would usually be treated with platelet transfusions, we are uncertain whether antifibrinolytics decrease the risk of bleeding and the use of platelet transfusions. We are uncertain whether antifibrinolytics increase the risk of developing a clot. We are uncertain whether antifibrinolytics increases the risk of adverse events.
None of the studies reported several of this review's outcomes including overall mortality, adverse events of transfusion, and quality of life.
Quality of the evidence
The quality of the evidence was very low, making it difficult to draw conclusions or make recommendations regarding the usefulness and safety of antifibrinolytics. The only evidence available is for adults with acute leukaemia receiving chemotherapy. We await the results of the three ongoing trials that are expected to recruit 1276 participants in total by 2020.
Our results indicate that the evidence available for the use of antifibrinolytics in haematology patients is very limited. The trials were too small to assess whether or not antifibrinolytics decrease bleeding. No trials reported the number of platelet transfusions per participant. The trials were too small to assess whether or not antifibrinolytics increased the risk of thromboembolic events or other adverse events. There are three ongoing RCTs (1276 participants) due to be completed in 2017 and 2020.
People with haematological disorders are frequently at risk of severe or life-threatening bleeding as a result of thrombocytopenia (reduced platelet count). This is despite the routine use of prophylactic platelet transfusions to prevent bleeding once the platelet count falls below a certain threshold. Platelet transfusions are not without risk and adverse events may be life-threatening. A possible adjunct to prophylactic platelet transfusions is the use of antifibrinolytics, specifically the lysine analogues tranexamic acid (TXA) and epsilon aminocaproic acid (EACA). This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2013.
To determine the efficacy and safety of antifibrinolytics (lysine analogues) in preventing bleeding in people with haematological disorders.
We searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2016, Issue 3), MEDLINE (from 1946), Embase (from 1974), CINAHL (from 1937), the Transfusion Evidence Library (from 1950) and ongoing trial databases to 07 March 2016.
We included RCTs involving participants with haematological disorders, who would routinely require prophylactic platelet transfusions to prevent bleeding. We only included trials involving the use of the lysine analogues TXA and EACA.
Two review authors independently screened all electronically-derived citations and abstracts of papers, identified by the review search strategy, for relevancy. Two review authors independently assessed the full text of all potentially relevant trials for eligibility, completed the data extraction and assessed the studies for risk of bias using The Cochrane Collaboration's 'Risk of bias' tool. We requested missing data from one author but the data were no longer available. The outcomes are reported narratively: we performed no meta-analyses because of the heterogeneity of the available data.
We identified three new studies in this update of the review. In total seven studies were eligible for inclusion, three were ongoing RCTs and four were completed studies. The four completed studies were included in the original review and the three ongoing studies were included in this update. We did not identify any RCTs that compared TXA with EACA.
Of the four completed studies, one cross-over TXA study (eight participants) was excluded from the outcome analysis because it had very flawed study methodology. Data from the other three studies were all at unclear risk of bias due to lack of reporting of study methodology.
Three studies (two TXA (12 to 56 participants), one EACA (18 participants) reported in four articles (published 1983 to 1995) were included in the narrative review. All three studies compared the drug with placebo. All three studies included adults with acute leukaemia receiving chemotherapy. One study (12 participants) only included participants with acute promyelocytic leukaemia. None of the studies included children. One of the three studies reported funding sources and this study was funded by a charity.
We are uncertain whether antifibrinolytics reduce the risk of bleeding (three studies; 86 participants; very low-quality evidence). Only one study reported the number of bleeding events per participant and there was no difference in the number of bleeding events seen during induction or consolidation chemotherapy between TXA and placebo (induction; 38 participants; mean difference (MD) 1.70 bleeding events, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.37 to 3.77: consolidation; 18 participants; MD -1.50 bleeding events, 95% CI -3.25 to 0.25; very low-quality evidence). The two other studies suggested bleeding was reduced in the antifibrinolytic study arm, but this was statistically significant in only one of these two studies.
Two studies reported thromboembolism and no events occurred (68 participants, very low-quality evidence).
All three studies reported a reduction in platelet transfusion usage (three studies, 86 participants; very low-quality evidence), but this was reported in different ways and no meta-analysis could be performed. No trials reported the number of platelet transfusions per participant. Only one study reported the number of platelet components per participant and there was a reduction in the number of platelet components per participant during consolidation chemotherapy but not during induction chemotherapy (consolidation; 18 participants; MD -5.60 platelet units, 95% CI -9.02 to -2.18: induction; 38 participants, MD -1.00 platelet units, 95% CI -9.11 to 7.11; very low-quality evidence).
Only one study reported adverse events of TXA as an outcome measure and none occurred. One study stated side effects of EACA were minimal but no further information was provided (two studies, 74 participants, very low-quality evidence).
None of the studies reported on the following pre-specified outcomes: overall mortality, adverse events of transfusion, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) or quality of life (QoL).