What is fibrinolysis, and when is it indicated in the treatment of ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) (MI, heart attack)?

Updated: May 07, 2019
  • Author: A Maziar Zafari, MD, PhD, FACC, FAHA; Chief Editor: Eric H Yang, MD  more...
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Fibrinolysis is an important reperfusion strategy, particularly in settings where primary PCI cannot be offered to STEMI patients within the recommended timelines. The benefit of fibrinolytic therapy in patients with STEMI is well established, with the largest benefit seen when administered early (within 12 hours after symptomatic onset) and in patients with the highest cardiovascular risk, including patients older than 75 years. [83, 84]

Fibrinolytic therapy may not be beneficial in patients who present more than 12 hours after symptom onset, although current practice guidelines recommend consideration of fibrinolysis in symptomatic patients with a large area of myocardium at risk (based on ECG or cardiovascular imaging) or hemodynamic instability if PCI is unavailable. See absolute and relative contraindications to fibrinolytic therapy in table 1, below.

Table 1. Absolute and Relative Contraindications to Fibrinolytic Therapy in Patients with STEMI (Open Table in a new window)

Absolute Contraindications Relative Contraindications
  • Any prior intracranial hemorrhage
  • Known structural cerebral vascular lesion
  • Known intracranial neoplasm (primary or metastatic)
  • Ischemic stroke within the past 3 months (except for acute stroke within 4.5 hours)
  • Suspected aortic dissection
  • Active bleeding or bleeding diathesis (excluding menses)
  • Significant closed-head or facial trauma within 3 months
  • Intracranial or intraspinal surgery within 2 months
  • Severe uncontrolled hypertension (unresponsive to emergency therapy)
  • For streptokinase (no longer marketed in the US): Prior treatment within previous 6 months
  • History of chronic, severe, poorly controlled hypertension
  • Systolic pressure >180 mm Hg or diastolic pressure >110 mm Hg
  • History of prior ischemic stroke >3 months
  • Dementia
  • Known intracranial pathology not covered in absolute contraindications
  • Traumatic or prolonged CPR (>10 minutes)
  • Recent (within 2-4 weeks) internal bleeding
  • Noncompressible vascular punctures
  • Pregnancy
  • Active peptic ulcer disease
  • Current use of anticoagulants: The higher the INR, the higher the risk of bleeding
  • For streptokinase (no longer marketed in the US): Prior exposure (>5 days previously) or prior allergic reaction to these agents

CPR = cardiopulmonary resuscitation; INR = international normalized ratio; STEMI = ST-elevation myocardial infarction; US = United States of America.


Table modified from 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of ST-elevation myocardial infarction: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. [2]

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