COVID-19 coagulopathy - what should we treat?

Exp Physiol. 2022 Jul;107(7):749-758. doi: 10.1113/EP089404. Epub 2022 Jun 22.


New findings: What is the topic of this review? Overview of the coagulation abnormalities, including elevated D-dimers widely reported with COVID-19, often labelled as COVID coagulopathy. What advances does it highlight? The review highlights the changes in bronchoalveolar haemostasis due to apoptosis of alveolar cells, which contributes to acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome; the pathophysiological mechanisms, including endothelial dysfunction and damage responsible for thrombosis of pulmonary microcirculation and potential contribution to the hypoxaemia of COVID-19 acute lung injury; and changes in coagulation proteins responsible for the hypercoagulability and increased risk of thrombosis in other venous and arterial beds. The rationale for anticoagulation and fibrinolytic therapies is detailed, and potential confounders that might have led to less than expected improvement in the various randomised controlled trials are considered.

Abstract: Coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) causes acute lung injury with diffuse alveolar damage, alveolar-capillary barrier disruption, thrombin generation and alveolar fibrin deposition. Clinically, hypoxaemia is associated with preserved lung compliance early in the disease, suggesting the lack of excessive fluid accumulation typical of other lung injuries. Notably, autopsy studies demonstrate infection of the endothelium with extensive capillary thrombosis distinct from the embolic thrombi in pulmonary arteries. The inflammatory thrombosis in pulmonary vasculature secondary to endothelial infection and dysfunction appears to contribute to hypoxaemia. This is associated with elevated D-dimers and acquired hypercoagulability with an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis. Hypercoagulability is secondary to elevated plasma tissue factor levels, von Willebrand factor, fibrinogen, reduced ADAMTS-13 with platelet activation and inhibition of fibrinolysis. Multi-platform randomised controlled studies of systemic therapeutic anticoagulation with unfractionated and low molecular mass heparins demonstrated a survival benefit over standard care with full-dose anticoagulation in patients with non-severe disease who require supplemental oxygen, but not in severe disease requiring ventilatory support. Late intervention and the heterogeneous nature of enrolled patients can potentially explain the apparent lack of benefit in severe disease. Improvement in oxygenation has been demonstrated with intravenous fibrinolytics in small studies. Inhaled anticoagulants, thrombolytic agents and non-specific proteolytic drugs in clinical trials for decreasing alveolar fibrin deposition might benefit early disease. Essentially, COVID-19 is a multi-system disorder with pulmonary vascular inflammatory thrombosis that requires an interdisciplinary approach to combination therapies addressing both inflammation and intravascular thrombosis or alveolar fibrin deposits to improve outcomes.

Keywords: ARDS; COVID coagulopathy; COVID-19; anticoagulants; coagulation; coronavirus; fibrinolytics; hypercoagulability; pulmonary microvascular thrombosis; thromboinflammation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Lung Injury* / drug therapy
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19*
  • Fibrin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / drug therapy
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Thrombophilia* / drug therapy
  • Thrombophilia* / etiology
  • Thrombosis* / drug therapy


  • Anticoagulants
  • Fibrin