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Consequences of suspected heparin-induced thrombocytopenia in the ICU

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Clinical suspicion of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) may prompt changes in drug management and alert clinicians to an increased risk of thrombosis. However, thrombocytopenia in the ICU occurs in about 50% of patients, is multifactorial and is due to HIT in <1%. We aimed to describe the consequences of suspected HIT among medical-surgical critically ill patients in terms of drug and device management, and thrombotic outcomes.


We enrolled 3,746 patients in the PROTECT trial comparing prophylactic dalteparin to unfractionated heparin. We defined HIT as occurring in patients with a clinical or laboratory-driven suspicion of HIT and a positive serotonin release assay (SRA). We defined suspected HIT as patients whose clinicians were sufficiently concerned about HIT to withhold heparin. We defined consequences of HIT as occurring from 1 day before it was suspected to 30 days thereafter.


One hundred and thirty patients (3.5%) had heparin held due to clinical suspicion of HIT. Of these, 10 (7.7%) had a positive SRA test. The drugs and devices used for thromboprophylaxis, as well as thrombotic events, are outlined in Table 1. At least one new thrombotic event developed in 23.8% of patients with suspected HIT and 40.0% of patients with HIT.

Table 1 (abstract P423)


Over 90% of patients with suspected HIT did not have HIT. One-half of patients with suspected HIT were prescribed another anticoagulant and one-third received mechanical prophylaxis. Thrombotic rates are higher in patients with HIT and suspected HIT than other patients. The frequent suspicion of HIT in critically ill patients and initiation of other interventions may create a greater clinical and economic burden than HIT itself.

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Correspondence to M Ostermann.

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Ostermann, M., McIntyre, L., Lauzier, F. et al. Consequences of suspected heparin-induced thrombocytopenia in the ICU. Crit Care 16, P423 (2012).

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  • Heparin
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Economic Burden
  • Clinical Suspicion
  • Unfractionated Heparin