Reduced morbidity and mortality rates of the heparin-induced thrombocytopenia syndrome

J Vasc Surg. 1998 Feb;27(2):309-14; discussion 315-6. doi: 10.1016/s0741-5214(98)70361-1.


Purpose: We reported a 61% morbidity rate and a 23% mortality rate for the heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) syndrome in 1983. We subsequently reported in 1987 that with early recognition, immediate cessation of the administration of heparin, and platelet function inhibition, the morbidity rate could be reduced to 23% and the mortality rate to 12%. One hundred recent cases of patients with heparin-associated antiplatelet antibodies (HAAb) have been reviewed to determine whether aggressive screening, early diagnosis, and alternate management could further reduce morbidity and mortality rates.

Methods: The consecutive records of 100 patients with positive platelet aggregation tests were reviewed. Sixty-six patients were male. The patients' ages ranged from 23 days to 92 years. The patients were from vascular (28), cardiothoracic (42), and other (30) services. HIT was suspected in patients who received heparin and had falling platelet counts, platelet counts less than 100,000/mm3, or new thromboembolic or hemorrhagic events.

Results: Heparin was not offered to six patients with known HAAb. Twelve patients were successfully treated with antiplatelet therapy and limited reexposure to heparin, and 75 patients were successfully treated with early diagnosis and prompt cessation of heparin. Alternate forms of anticoagulation therapy were used selectively. Seven patients had 11 complications. Three of the seven patients were treated successfully with warfarin anticoagulation and aspirin (2) or with aspirin alone (1). A fourth patient was treated with thrombectomy, hematoma evacuation, and aspirin. A fifth patient underwent thrombolysis and coronary angioplasty in addition to receiving warfarin and aspirin. The sixth patient required two thrombectomies and warfarin. A seventh patient required two thrombectomies and aspirin. HIT was responsible for one of 17 deaths.

Conclusion: A 7.4% morbidity rate and a 1.1% mortality rate have been achieved in patients with HAAb by aggressive screening, early recognition of HIT, and prompt cessation of the administration of heparin. Platelet function inhibitors and other anticoagulants, including nonreacting low molecular weight heparin, are important adjuncts in the management of the thromboembolic disorders associated with HIT.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticoagulants / adverse effects*
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Autoimmune Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / mortality
  • Blood Platelets / immunology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Heparin / adverse effects*
  • Heparin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Platelet Aggregation
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Syndrome
  • Thrombocytopenia / chemically induced*
  • Thrombocytopenia / immunology
  • Thrombocytopenia / mortality
  • Warfarin / therapeutic use


  • Anticoagulants
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors
  • Warfarin
  • Heparin
  • Aspirin