Drug Safety

, Volume 26, Issue 9, pp 625–641 | Cite as

Benefit-Risk Assessment of Treatments for Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia

  • Harry L. Messmore
  • Walter P. Jeske
  • William H. Wehrmacher
  • Jeanine M. Walenga
Review Article


Patients with heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) are at high risk of thrombosis and should be treated with alternative anticoagulant therapy to reduce complications. The current treatment of choice is one of the approved direct thrombin inhibitors, argatroban or lepirudin. These drugs have been proven to be safe and effective in multicentre clinical trials where dosage regimens have been established for prophylaxis and treatment of thrombosis. Argatroban has also been tested and approved for use in invasive cardiology procedures in the HIT patient. Dosage regimens for other clinical uses, such as cardiac surgery, have not yet been established for either drug. The safety and effectiveness of the thrombin inhibitors is dependent on their use according to established guidelines. Other treatment options that may be effective for the patient with HIT include dextran, plasmapheresis, intravenous gammaglobulin and aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Although used historically, these options have not been tested in rigorous clinical trials. For life- and limb-threatening thrombosis, thrombolytic agents and/or surgery may provide benefit. Because the risk of bleeding is high from these procedures, they should be performed only by an experienced practitioner. Several studies have shown that patients with HIT requiring continued anticoagulation are best managed with a warfarin derivative initiated while under full anticoagulation with a thrombin inhibitor. There is a risk of skin necrosis and bleeding if guidelines for dose administration and monitoring of warfarin are not followed. Subsequent use of heparin or a low molecular weight heparin after resolution of the clinical episode of HIT can be hazardous, particularly within the first 3 months. If laboratory testing is negative, heparin may be cautiously reinstituted for short-term use (1–2 hours) with monitoring for platelet count decrease and thromboembolism. The pregnant patient with HIT requiring anticoagulation represents a particular challenge, where there is no drug of choice at present. Although today there are realistic treatment options for the patient with HIT, the morbidity and mortality associated with this disease have not been eliminated. Awareness and early treatment of HIT remain important components of the clinical care for patients exposed to heparins. Future therapeutic developments based on a better understanding of the pathophysiology of HIT may further improve clinical outcomes. Despite some limitations, the current treatment options for patients with HIT provide unparalleled benefit compared with the treatment options available only a few years ago.



Jeanine Walenga is a consultant to GlaxoSmithKline and to Berlex. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harry L. Messmore
    • 1
  • Walter P. Jeske
    • 2
  • William H. Wehrmacher
    • 3
  • Jeanine M. Walenga
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of MedicineHines Veterans Affairs Hospital, Hines, Illinois, and Loyola, University Medical CenterMaywoodUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Thoracic-Cardiovascular Surgery and PathologyCardiovascular Institute, Loyola University Medical CenterMaywoodUSA
  3. 3.Departments of Physiology and MedicineLoyola University Medical CenterMaywoodUSA

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