, Volume 67, Issue 10, pp 1429–1440 | Cite as

Hereditary and Acquired Antithrombin Deficiency

Epidemiology, Pathogenesis and Treatment Options
Review Article


Antithrombin is a glycoprotein critical to the regulation of coagulation. Its primary action is the inhibition of the activated coagulation factors IIa (thrombin) and Xa. In addition there is growing evidence to suggest that antithrombin also plays a role in the inhibition of inflammation within the environment of the vascular endothelium. Reduced plasma antithrombin may result from congenital deficiency or arise secondarily from a range of disorders such as liver dysfunction, premature infancy and sepsis, or as a result of interventions such as major surgery or cardiopulmonary bypass.

Congenital antithrombin deficiency is the most clinically important of the inherited thrombophilias resulting in thrombosis in the majority of those affected. The challenge in managing these patients is preventing potentially life-threatening thrombosis, while minimising the equally significant risk of haemorrhage associated with long-term anticoagulation. This is achieved in the first instance by identifying high-risk episodes such as surgery, immobility and pregnancy for which prophylactic anticoagulation can be used in the short term. Prophylaxis for such periods is best provided by the use of low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) with substitution by or addition of antithrombin concentrate in particularly high-risk circumstances. In the case of pregnancy, antithrombin concentrate is often used around the time of birth when LMWH may increase the risk of post-partum haemorrhage. As patients with congenital antithrombin deficiency get older so their thrombotic risk gradually increases and for many patients long-term anticoagulation becomes unavoidable because of recurrent episodes of venous thromboembolism.

There has been much interest in the role of antithrombin deficiency in the setting of sepsis and the critically ill patient where there is a clear correlation between severity of illness and degree of antithrombin reduction. It is not clear yet, however, to what extent the depletion of antithrombin affects the clinical condition of such patients. A number of trials have investigated the use of antithrombin as a treatment in the intensive care setting with the overall conclusion being that there is some benefit to its use but only if large supra-physiological doses are used. It has also become clear that the concurrent use of any form of heparin removes whatever benefit may be derived from antithrombin treatment in this setting. Until recently, antithrombin replacement was only available as a pooled plasma-derived product, which despite effective viral inactivation still carries an uncertain risk of transfusion transmitted infection. A recombinant antithrombin product now under investigation, and recently licensed in Europe, may provide a useful alternative treatment option.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HaematologyGlasgow Royal InfirmaryGlasgowUK

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