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Thrombosis

Last updated: September 15, 2020

Overview

Although respiratory manifestations predominate in patients with COVID-19, other systems can also be affected. Early in the pandemic, international reports suggested a high rate of venous thromboembolism (VTE) (Chen, April 2020; Klok, April 2020; Lodigiani, April 2020). These reports were confounded by a lack of uniform use of VTE prophylaxis, heterogeneous populations (ICU vs non-ICU patients), and lack of prospective evaluation for VTE. 

As the pandemic has progressed, additional data suggests the incidence of VTE in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is high, with reported incidences of up to 16% in the U.S. (Bilaloglu, July 2020). Autopsy series have found evidence of small vessel thrombosis and microangiopathy in the lungs, as well as VTE;  these studies were performed with patients who had severe disease (Lax, May 2020; Fox, July 2020; Wichmann, Aug 2020).  

Procoagulant responses likely result from specific interactions between host defense mechanisms and the coagulation system (Iba, September 2020). Multiple mechanisms may be implicated in COVID-19 patients who develop a pro-coagulative state in COVID-19. D-dimer is often elevated (Berger, August 2020; Iba, September 2020), and several case series/reports have noted increased factor VIII and von Willebrand factor (Escher, April 2020), complement activation (Margo, April 2020), platelet activation (Manne, June 2020), increase in fibrinogen (Panigada, April 2020), and neutrophil extracellular traps (Middleton, September 2020). Some studies have also found antiphospholipid antibodies in patients with COVID-19 (Helms, April 2020;Zhang, April 2020; Bowles, July 2020), and heparin resistance (White, May 2020).

Below, we review select epidemiologic literature evaluating the coagulative state of patients with COVID-19. Multiple studies on this topic have been published; here we have focused on the largest studies and studies with the highest level of evidence and the most generalizable results.   

On this page:

Guidelines

The American Thoracic Society recommends all hospitalized patients with COVID-19 should receive thromboprophylaxis therapy, unless otherwise contraindicated.

  • Low-molecular-weight heparin or fondaparinux should be used for thromboprophylaxis over unfractionated heparin and direct oral anticoagulants.
  • There are insufficient data to justify routine increased intensity anticoagulant dosing in hospitalized or critically ill COVID-19 patients.
  • Thromboprophylaxis for COVID-19 patients is not indicated in the outpatient setting
  • In critically ill COVID-19 patients, suggest against routine ultrasound screening for the detection of asymptomatic deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • For critically ill COVID-19 patients with proximal DVT or pulmonary embolism, recommend parenteral anticoagulation therapy with therapeutic weight adjusted low-molecular-weight heparin or fondaparinux over unfractionated heparin.

The American Society of Hematology recommends all hospitalized adults with COVID-19 receive pharmacologic thromboprophylaxis with low molecular weight heparin over unfractionated heparin (to reduce contact).

  • Due to a lack of high-quality evidence, the use of empiric intermediate or high dose anticoagulation is recommended only in the context of a clinical trial.
  • American Society of Hematology Guidelines on the use of anticoagulation for patients with COVID-19 are forthcoming.

 

Key Literature 

Incidence of thrombotic complications in critically ill ICU patients with COVID-19 (Klok, July 2020).

Study population:

  • Retrospective study of 184 COVID-19 patients in ICU at 3 Dutch hospitals.

Primary endpoint:

  • The incidence of a composite outcome of symptomatic acute pulmonary embolism, deep-vein thrombosis, ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction or systemic arterial embolism.

Key findings:

  • The cumulative incidence of the composite outcome was 31% (95% CI 20-41), of which CTPA and/or ultrasonography confirmed VTE in 27% (95%CI 17-37%) and arterial thrombotic events in 3.7% (95%CI 0-8.2%).
  • Pulmonary embolism was the most frequent thrombotic complication (n = 25, 81%).

Limitations:

  • This was a retrospective study, with the potential for confounding.
  • VTE screening was not employed; therefore, incidence may have been higher.

 

Retrospective cohort study of thrombosis in Hospitalized Patients With COVID-19 in a New York City Health System (Bilaloglu, July 2020).

Study population:

  • 3334 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 at a single health system in New York City.

Primary endpoint:

  • Incidence of, and risk factors for, venous and arterial thrombotic events.

Key findings:

  • Thrombotic event(s) were documented in 533 patients (16%).
  • 207 of the events (6.2%) were VTE, and 365 (11.1%) were arterial (1.6% ischemic stroke, 8.9% MI, and 1.0% systemic thromboembolism).
  • In 829 critically ill patients, 29.4% had a thrombotic event; among 2505 non-critically ill patients, 11.5% had a thrombotic event.
  • On multivariate analysis, factors associated with increased thrombosis risk were: older age, male gender, Hispanic ethnicity, coronary artery disease, prior myocardial infarction, and high D-dimer (> 500 ng/ml) on presentation.
  • All-cause mortality was 24.5%, and was higher in those with thrombotic events (43.2% vs 21.0%; P <0 .001).
  • A thrombotic event was independently associated with mortality (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.82; P <0 .001).

Limitations:

  • The retrospective nature of the study design may have introduced confounding into the results.
  • Patients were not prospectively assessed for thrombotic complications; subclinical thrombi may have been missed.
  • The study took place in a single health system, which may limit the generalizability of the results.

 

Incidence of Deep Vein Thrombosis among non‐ICU Patients Hospitalized for COVID‐19 Despite Pharmacological Thromboprophylaxis (Santoliquido, July 2020).

Study population:

  • 84 non-critically ill patients admitted consecutively to a hospital in Italy.
  • All patients received prophylactic doses of either enoxaparin or fondaparinux.

Primary endpoint:

  • Incidence of VTE (determined by screening of all patients with ultrasound, regardless of signs or symptoms of VTE) among non-ICU patients hospitalized for COVID-19 who received pharmacological thromboprophylaxis.

Key findings:

  • Seventy-two patients (85.7%) had respiratory insufficiency, required supplemental oxygen, and had reduced mobility/were bedridden.
  • The incidence of DVT was 11.9% (10/84).

Limitations:

  • This was a small, single-center study; the results may not be generalizable.
  • 7% of patients had a history of cancer or current cancer, and 9.5% of patients had recent trauma and/or surgery; this may have confounded the results.
  • Ultrasound was not performed at admission, but was performed early during hospitalization. It is possible DVT was present upon admission, or that DTVs developed later in the hospitalization (and thus not captured).

 

COVID-19 and coagulation: retrospective study of bleeding and thrombotic manifestations of SARS-CoV-2 infection (Al-Samkari, June 2020). 

Study population:

  • 400 patients with COVID-19 admitted to hospitals in a Massachusetts health system.

Study endpoint:

  • Incidence of radiographically confirmed VTE, probable VTE (defined as a consistent clinical syndrome prompting the initiation of anticoagulation in patients unable to have imaging), and clinically significant non-vessel thrombotic events.

Key findings: 

  • The overall thrombotic complication rate was 9.5%.
  • The thrombotic complication rate in noncritically ill patients was 4.7%, and 18.1% in critically ill patients.
  • The overall rate of radiographically-confirmed VTE was 4.8% (3.1% in noncritically ill patients and 7.6% in critically ill patients).
  • All patients but one with VTE were receiving either prophylactic or full-dose anticoagulation.
  • The incidence of arterial thrombotic events was 2.8% - all these patients were receiving prophylactic or full-dose anticoagulation.
  • In multivariate analysis, thrombosis was primarily associated with inflammatory markers, rather than coagulation parameters.

Limitations:

  • The retrospective nature of the study design may have introduced confounding.
  • Patients were not prospectively assessed for thrombotic complications; subclinical thrombi may have been missed.
  • The study took place in a single health system, which may limit the generalizability of the results.

 

Venous thromboembolism (VTE) in COVID-19: systematic review of reported risks and current guidelines (Fontana, June 2020).

Study population:

  • 1369 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 derived from 11 studies (1 clinical trial, 7 retrospective cohorts and 3 prospective cohorts).

Primary endpoint:

  • Systematic review; N/A.

Key findings: 

  • Risk of VTE ranged from 4.4–8.2% in all hospitalized COVID-19 inpatients.
  • In critically ill patients, incidence ranged from 0-35.5%.
  • Two studies at least partially screened for VTE in ICU inpatients with COVID-19, and found incidences of 24.7–53.8%.

Limitations:

  • The study populations in the included papers were heterogeneous in terms of critically ill vs non-critically ill patients.
  • The quality of the studies included was variable.
  • Most, but not all studies reported universal VTE prophylaxis.

 

Prevalence of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in patients with severe novel coronavirus pneumonia (Cui, May 2020).

Study population:

  • Retrospective study of 81 hospitalized ICU patients with severe COVID-19 in China.
  • Thirty‐three patients (41%) had chronic medical conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.

Primary endpoint:

  • To determine the incidence of VTE in patients with severe COVID-19.

Key findings:

  • The incidence of VTE was 25% (20/81), and 8 patients with VTE events died.
  • Patients who developed VTE vs. non-VTE were older, had lower lymphocyte counts, longer activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (39.9 ± 6.4 vs. 35.6 ± 4.5 seconds, P = 0.001), and higher D‐dimer (5.2 ± 3.0 versus 0.8 ± 1.2 µg/mL, P < 0.001).
  • If 1.5 µg/mL was used as the D‐dimer cut‐off value to predicting VTE, the sensitivity was 85.0%, the specificity was 88.5%, and the negative predictive value (NPV) was 94.7%.

Limitations:

  • This was a retrospective, single‐center study with a small sample size and the potential for confounding, limiting generalizability.

Overall, given the potential of a hypercoagulable state in patients with COVID-19 and the apparent high incidence of thrombosis in patients admitted with COVID-19 (particularly in the ICU setting), clinicians should have a high clinical suspicion for thrombotic events.. Whether critically ill COVID-19 patients should receive therapeutic anticoagulation in the absence of confirmed or suspected VTE is not currently known.

Several randomized controlled trials are investigating the effects of different doses of heparin on patient outcomes in those with COVID-19; results are forthcoming.

 

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