Background: Despite limited evidence, systemic anticoagulation is the current standard of care for patients supported on venoarterial-extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO). We hypothesized that not anticoagulating patients on VA-ECMO would decrease complications.
Methods: We retrospectively reviewed adult patients supported on VA-ECMO at our institution. Patients were stratified based on anticoagulation strategy. The primary outcome was a composite of hemorrhagic and thrombotic complications. Secondary outcomes included blood product use, incidence of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), hospital length of stay, and in-hospital mortality.
Results: From May 2011 through January 2018, there were 203 eligible patients supported on VA-ECMO, 35% (75 patients) were not anticoagulated. Overall complication rates were significantly lower for the no anticoagulation group (57% versus 76%; P = .007) including a trend toward fewer hemorrhagic complications (53% versus 63%; P = .178) without increased risk of thrombosis (13% versus 21%; P = .147). The anticoagulated group required more transfusions of packed red blood cells (12.8 versus 1.09; P = .002) and platelets (3.0 versus 1.3; P = .009) and showed a higher incidence of HIT (8% versus 0%; P = .015). No difference was found in overall mortality (72% versus 62%; P = .165).
Conclusions: The absence of routine systemic anticoagulation for patients supported on VA-ECMO is not associated with higher mortality, pump failure, or thrombotic complications. Patients had a lower requirement for blood product transfusions, and there was no incidence of HIT. Patients supported on VA-ECMO without other indications for anticoagulation can be treated without systemic anticoagulation during their VA-ECMO course.
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