A blood thinner already used to treat dangerous blood clots in the limbs and lungs appears to be safer in treating certain heart attacks than the more powerful blood thinner that’s traditionally used, a new Swedish study has found. Patients who received fondaparinux to treat a specific type of heart attack called non-ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction had a lower risk of major bleeding and death compared to patients who received heparin.

Heparin is the blood thinner commonly used by doctors in heart attack cases, according to the study published in theJournal of the American Medical Association.

These findings, drawn from a large Swedish health records database, confirm the results of a 2006 clinical trial that showed that fondaparinux could be used to safely and effectively treat these types of heart attacks, said lead author Dr. Karolina Szummer of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. “For the average person, this is good news,” Szummer said, noting that these results are based on the general use of fondaparinux to treat heart attacks in Sweden in a “real world” setting, as opposed to a clinical trial in which patients were randomly chosen to receive the drug.

When Swedish doctors in the regular course of treatment chose to use fondaparinux to treat a heart attack, “the results persisted with improved survival and fewer bleeding events,” she said. Fondaparinux already has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in treating blood clots deep in the veins of the legs (deep vein thrombosis) and in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), said Dr. Mark Creager, president-elect of the American Heart Association.

Therefore, US doctors can choose fondaparinux as an “off-label” drug for people suffering a heart attack, added Creager, who is director of the vascular center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The FDA approved fondaparinux (Arixtra) in 2001, and a generic version of the drug became available in the United States in 2011, according to the agency’s records.

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