Use and safety of unfractionated heparin for anticoagulation during maintenance hemodialysis

Am J Kidney Dis. 2012 Sep;60(3):473-86. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2012.03.017. Epub 2012 May 5.


Anticoagulation is essential to hemodialysis, and unfractionated heparin (UFH) is the most commonly used anticoagulant in the United States. However, there is no universally accepted standard for its administration in long-term hemodialysis. Dosage schedules vary and include weight-based protocols and low-dose protocols for those at high risk of bleeding, as well as regional anticoagulation with heparin and heparin-coated dialyzers. Adjustments are based largely on clinical signs of under- and overanticoagulation. Risks of UFH use include bleeding, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, hypertriglyceridemia, anaphylaxis, and possibly bone mineral disease, hyperkalemia, and catheter-associated sepsis. Alternative anticoagulants include low-molecular-weight heparin, direct thrombin inhibitors, heparinoids, and citrate. Anticoagulant-free hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis also are potential substitutes. However, some of these alternative treatments are not as available as or are more costly than UFH, are dependent on country and health care system, and present dosing challenges. When properly monitored, UFH is a relatively safe and economical choice for anticoagulation in long-term hemodialysis for most patients.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticoagulants / adverse effects
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Blood Coagulation / drug effects
  • Diabetic Nephropathies
  • Disease Progression
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hemorrhage / chemically induced*
  • Hemorrhage / prevention & control
  • Heparin / adverse effects*
  • Heparin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / etiology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Kidney Function Tests
  • Long-Term Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Patient Safety
  • Renal Dialysis / adverse effects
  • Renal Dialysis / methods*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Thromboembolism / prevention & control
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anticoagulants
  • Heparin