Purpose: To determine the incidence of heparin-associated thrombocytopenia in patients receiving prophylaxis or treatment for venous thromboembolism.
Methods: We assessed the database of the National Hospital Discharge Survey from 1979 through 2005 and complemented this with a meta-analysis of published literature.
Result: Among 10,554,000 patients discharged from short-stay hospitals throughout the US with venous thromboembolism during the 27 years of study, secondary thrombocytopenia was coded in 38,000 patients (0.36%). From 1979 through 1992, secondary thrombocytopenia was coded in only 0.15% of hospitalized patients with venous thromboembolism. The frequency increased sharply to 0.54% from 1993 through 2005. Secondary thrombocytopenia was rarely diagnosed among 1,446,000 patients aged <40 years and among 77,000 women who had venous thromboembolism with deliveries. Meta-analysis of published literature showed a higher incidence among patients who received unfractionated heparin (UFH) for prophylaxis than those who received low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) for prophylaxis. Treatment resulted in smaller differences of the incidence between UFH and LMWH.
Conclusion: Heparin-associated thrombocytopenia is rare among patients aged <40 years and women following delivery. The risk of heparin-associated thrombocytopenia is more duration-related than dose-related, and higher with UFH when used for an extended duration. Our findings and those of the literature suggest that although heparin-associated thrombocytopenia is uncommon, the incidence can be minimized by use of LMWH, particularly if extended prophylaxis or extended treatment is required.