Enoxaparin for unstable angina and ancrod for cardiac surgery following heparin allergy

Ann Pharmacother. 1996 May;30(5):476-80. doi: 10.1177/106002809603000508.


Objective: To describe a patient who presented with heparin allergy and required alternate anticoagulation for unstable angina and coronary artery bypass surgery. To review therapeutic alternatives to porcine heparin for patients with hypersensitivity or intolerance to standard heparin anticoagulation.

Case summary: A 74-year-old man with a 15-year-old coronary artery bypass graft presented to the emergency room with unstable angina and was scheduled for urgent coronary artery revascularization. A bolus dose of porcine heparin was administered followed by a continuous infusion. Shortly afterward the patient developed a type I allergic reaction to the porcine heparin that was confirmed by rechallenge. Three alternatives to porcine heparin were tried, including bovine lung heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin (enoxaparin), and ancrod. The patient was found to be cross-sensitive to bovine lung heparin, but tolerated enoxaparin for unstable angina without cross-sensitivity. Anticoagulation for cardiopulmonary bypass was achieved with an infusion of ancrod that was later reversed with cryoprecipitate. The patient was discharged postoperatively on day 5 without the complication of excessive bleeding.

Discussion: Type I allergic reaction to unfractionated heparin is a rare occurrence and could be the result of a variety of factors. Possible causes for the reaction include a porcine protein, a preservative contained in the heparin solution, or a hapten formed between heparin and a plasma protein. We considered four alternatives to heparin anticoagulation: rush desensitization, bovine lung heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin, and ancrod. The patient was cross-sensitive to bovine lung heparin, but was able to tolerate low-molecular-weight heparin (enoxaparin). This was unexpected because enoxaparin is derived from unfractionated porcine heparin. Testing for cross-sensitivity had no value in this case, as two negative subcutaneous test doses were followed by dramatic reactions when the drugs were given intravenously. Although enoxaparin has been used for anticoagulation during bypass surgery, there is more experience with ancrod as an alternative to heparin. Repeat bypass surgery, which normally results in above-average blood loss, was successfully performed with a very low fibrinogen concentration (< 0.15 g/L) during ancrod anticoagulation.

Conclusions: We conclude that ancrod was a safe and effective alternative to heparin for coronary artery bypass surgery in this patient in whom a heparin product had caused a hypersensitivity reaction. We discovered on two occasions that a negative subcutaneous test dose for heparin allergy did not predict a severe type I allergic reaction when the heparin was later administered intravenously. Furthermore, we found that a low-molecular-weight heparin administered subcutaneously for a short period of time did not cause cross-sensitivity in a patient with a type I allergy to unfractionated heparin.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ancrod / therapeutic use*
  • Angina, Unstable / drug therapy*
  • Animals
  • Anticoagulants / adverse effects
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Cattle
  • Coronary Artery Bypass
  • Diphenhydramine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Enoxaparin / therapeutic use*
  • Heparin / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Swine


  • Anticoagulants
  • Enoxaparin
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Heparin
  • Ancrod