The Role of Blood Viscosity in Infectious Diseases

Cureus. 2020 Feb 24;12(2):e7090. doi: 10.7759/cureus.7090.


Blood viscosity is increased by elevated concentrations of acute phase reactants and hypergammaglobulinemia in inflammation. These increase blood viscosity by increasing plasma viscosity and fostering erythrocyte aggregation. Blood viscosity is also increased by decreased erythrocyte deformability, as occurs in malaria. Increased blood viscosity contributes to the association of acute infections with myocardial infarction (MI), venous thrombosis, and venous thromboembolism. It also increases vascular resistance, which decreases tissue perfusion and activates stretch receptors in the left ventricle, thereby initiating the systemic vascular resistance response. This compensates for the increased vascular resistance by vasodilation, lowering hematocrit, and decreasing intravascular volume. This physiological response causes the anemias associated with malaria, chronic inflammation, and other chronic diseases. Since tissue perfusion is inversely proportional to blood viscosity, anemia may be beneficial as it increases tissue perfusion when erythrocyte aggregating factors or erythrocytes with decreased deformability are present in the blood.

Keywords: acute phase response; anemia of chronic disease; atherosclerosis; atherothrombosis; blood viscosity; hemorheology; infection; inflammation; myocardial infarction; thrombosis.

Publication types

  • Review