What are the risks of heparin anticoagulation therapy for the treatment of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)?

Updated: Dec 06, 2020
  • Author: Marcel M Levi, MD; Chief Editor: Srikanth Nagalla, MBBS, MS, FACP  more...
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Experimental studies have suggested that heparin can at least partly inhibit the activation of coagulation in cases of sepsis and other causes of DIC. [78] However, a beneficial effect of heparin on clinically important outcome events in patients with DIC has not yet been demonstrated in controlled clinical trials. Moreover, antithrombin, the primary target of heparin activity, is markedly decreased in DIC, which means that the effectiveness of heparin therapy will be limited without concomitant replacement of antithrombin.

Furthermore, there are well-founded concerns with respect to anticoagulating DIC patients who are already at high risk for hemorrhagic complications. It is generally agreed that therapeutic doses of heparin are indicated in cases of obvious thromboembolic disease or where fibrin deposition predominates (eg, purpura fulminans or acral ischemia). [79, 80, 81] The use of heparin in chronic DIC where there is preponderance of coagulation without consumption coagulopathy is well established. [82] In other patients with acryl cyanosis and digital ischemia and DIC, heparin can be safely administered at lower doses. A dose of 4-5 U/kg constant infusion without a 80-U/kg bolus is a safe means to deliver heparin to the DIC without increasing the bleeding risk.

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