Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia (HIT)

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia (HIT)

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia (HIT)

Heparin induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) is a complication of an adverse drug reaction and is inked to major thromboembolic complications. The purpose of this paper is to explore HIT as a hematological disorder, it etiology, pathogenesis, clinical presentation and management.

HIT varies in severity and typically occurs within 5 to 14 days after starting heparin therapy, although it can occur earlier in re-exposure to heparin. Common symptoms include skin changes at the injection site, such as erythema, swelling, and pain. Other clinical features of HIT include petechiae, bruising, mucosal bleeding, and in severe cases, bleeding into internal organs (Hvas et al., 2021). Patients may also present with symptoms of thrombosis, such as pain, warmth, and swelling in the affected area, which can occur in the limbs, lungs, brain, or other organs, and venous limb gangrene.

The etiology of HIT involves an immune response against heparin-bound platelet factor 4 (PF4), which forms a complex with heparin. This PF4-heparin complex is recognized by the immune system as foreign, triggering an immune response that leads to the formation of anti-PF4 antibodies (Patriarcheas et al., 2020). These antibodies can then bind to the PF4-heparin complex, activating platelets and leading to a hypercoagulable state, forming blood clots and activating inflammatory cells.

The duration and dose of heparin therapy are significant, with longer durations of heparin treatment and higher doses associated with an increased risk of developing HIT. Specific patient populations, such as those undergoing major surgery, particularly cardiac surgery, and those with a history of HIT, are also at higher risk (Arepally et al., 2021). Other risk factors include female gender, older age, and a history of autoimmune diseases. The differential diagnoses of HIT include Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, Drug-induced thrombocytopenia by medications such as antibiotics, antiplatelet agents, and NSAIDs, Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, Disseminated intravascular coagulation, Septicemia due to bacterial infections, and Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS).

Diagnostic work-up include Platelet Count Monitoring. Frequent monitoring of platelet counts is crucial in diagnosing HIT. A rapid drop in platelet count (typically >50% from baseline) is often an early indicator of HIT. Immunoassays: Serological testing for antibodies against heparin and platelet factor 4 (PF4) is an important diagnostic step. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is commonly used to detect HIT antibodies, although it may have limitations regarding sensitivity and specificity. If ELISA is positive, confirmatory testing, such as serotonin-release assay (SRA), may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.Imaging Studies such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be conducted to evaluate for thrombosis or embolism.

The first line of treatment for HIT is the immediate discontinuation of all forms of heparin, including unfractionated heparin (UFH) and low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH). Alternative anticoagulants, such as direct thrombin inhibitors like bivalirudin or factor Xa inhibitors like rivaroxaban, may be used as substitutes for heparin in patients with confirmed HIT. Treatment of thrombosis associated with HIT may require anticoagulation with non-heparin anticoagulants, often at therapeutic doses. The duration of anticoagulation and the choice of anticoagulant may depend on the location and severity of the thrombosis and individual patient factors (Choi et al., 2019)—multidisciplinary approach with close monitoring among various healthcare professionals, including hematologists, pharmacists, and other specialists.

Tertiary prevention measures include immediate cessation of heparin and frequent monitoring of platelet counts to assess the severity of thrombocytopenia and guide further management decisions. Anticoagulation management, patients diagnosed with HIT should avoid all sources of heparin, including heparin-containing medications, flushes, and catheters.

Appropriate referrals for HIT may include Hematology specialists who can provide expertise in diagnosing and managing HIT.Clinical pharmacists can guide appropriate anticoagulation management, including dosing adjustments, monitoring for drug interactions, and patient education on medication administration. Thrombosis-specialized centers that focus on thrombosis or hemostasis may be necessary for complex HIT cases or patients with severe thrombotic complications that require advanced management options, such as thrombectomy or intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy.

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia

Diagnostic-specific scales and tools for HIT include the 4Ts score tool that assesses the probability of HIT based on four clinical criteria: thrombocytopenia, the timing of platelet count fall, thrombosis or other clinical sequelae, and exclusion of other causes of thrombocytopenia. Serotonin release assay is a specialized laboratory test that can confirm the presence of HIT antibodies in the blood.

Geriatric patients with HIT may have difficulty communicating their medical history, posing diagnosis challenges. Elderly patients also have reduced clearance of heparin from their bodies and may have multiple comorbidities, such as renal insufficiency, which may complicate the presentation of HIT. In conclusion, HIT is a severe immune-mediated disorder resulting in thrombosis and highmortality, especially in older patients. Close monitoring of laboratory parameters and management is important to limit complications.


Arepally, G. M., & Padmanabhan, A. (2021). Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia: a focus on thrombosis. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology41(1), 141–152.

Choi, J. H., Luc, J. G., Weber, M. P., Reddy, H. G., Maynes, E. J., Deb, A. K., … & Tchantchaleishvili, V. (2019). Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia during extracorporeal life support: incidence, management, and outcomes. Annals of Cardiothoracic Surgery, 8(1), 19.

Hvas, A. M., Favaloro, E. J., & Hellfritzsch, M. (2021). Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia: pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Expert Review of Hematology, 14(4), 335-346.

Patriarcheas, V., Pikoulas, A., Kostis, M., Charpidou, A., & Dimakakos, E. (2020). Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia: pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management. Cureus, 12(3).


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