Most patients with heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), a serious adverse effect of heparin mediated by platelet-activating heparin-dependent antibodies, require alternative anticoagulation. This is because HIT is highly prothrombotic and is characterized by markedly increased thrombin generation. Unfractionated heparins seem to induce HIT more often than low molecular weight heparins. There are three anticoagulants for which there is an emerging consensus for their efficacy in management of HIT, and which are currently approved for treatment of HIT in several countries: the recombinant hirudin, lepirudin, a direct thrombin inhibitor; the synthetic direct thrombin inhibitor, argatroban; and the heparinoid, danaparoid sodium, mainly exhibiting antifactor-Xa activity. Recommendations for optimal use of these drugs in HIT are given in this review stressing the need for immediate treatment of patients with HIT without awaiting laboratory diagnosis. Hirudin, the drug for which most data from prospective trials exists, can be safely and effectively used in patients with HIT, its dramatically increased elimination half-life in patients with renal failure being the most important drawback. Argatroban, which is mainly eliminated by the liver, could be used preferentially in such patients with renal impairment. Interference with the international normalized ratio makes oral anticoagulation, which is necessary in many patients with HIT, problematic. Activated partial thromboplastin time is sufficient to monitor lepirudin and argatroban treatment in most cases. Danaparoid sodium, with an antifactor-X activity half-life of about 24 hours seems to be best suited for thrombosis prophylaxis in patients with HIT. In some patients monitoring by determining antifactor-Xa activity is necessary. No antidote is available for any of the drugs discussed, and bleeding complications are the most important adverse effects. In situations such as hemodialysis or cardiopulmonary bypass, not only the characteristics of the drug in use itself, but also availability of monitoring methods play an important role. Adjunctive treatments have not been systematically evaluated and should be used cautiously. Recent data suggest that re-exposure of patients with a history of HIT with heparin, for example during cardiopulmonary bypass, can be well tolerated provided no circulating HIT antibodies are detectable at the time of re-exposure, and heparin is strictly avoided pre- and postoperatively.
2001. Vol. 1, no 6, 429-43 p.