What’s the evidence that patients with Covid-19 are at high risk of blood clots?

Although we often think of it as a respiratory disease, emerging evidence suggests that Covid-19, particularly when severe,  is also associated with high risk of thrombotic events, including pulmonary embolism, venous thrombosis, and arterial thrombotic events.1

A Chinese study found that ICU patients with severe Covid-19 had a venous thromboembolism (VTE) incidence of 25%, with disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC) found in the majority of fatal cases.2

A prospective Dutch study involving critically ill ICU patients with Covid-19 reported VTE in 27% and arterial thrombotic events in another 3.7%, despite standard VTE prophylaxis.3 The authors suggested the use of “high prophylactic doses” of anticoagulants in these patients due to concern over hypercoagulability.

An ICU French study also found high frequency of thrombotic complications in Covid-19 patients with ARDS, with 11.7% of patients having pulmonary embolism vs 2.1% in non-Covid-19 patients with ARDS. As with the Dutch study, thrombotic complications occurred despite standard prophylactic anticoagulation.4

Postmortem studies have also shown marked changes in lung microvasculature with the presence of microthrombi, with some calling it “pulmonary intravascular coagulopathy” to distinguish it from DIC.1

A NEJM letter reported 5 Covid-19 patients less than 50 years of age who presented with large vessel stroke symptoms without an alternative explanation.5 Of interest, 2 of these patients had no other symptoms suggestive of Covid-19.  A pre-print article from China reported an acute stroke incidence of 5% in hospitalized patients with Covid-19.6

The finding of a hypercoagulable state in patients with severe Covid-19 is not surprising given the frequent association of this infection with a high inflammatory state and the well-known capability of SARS-CoV-2 to attack the endothelial surfaces of blood vessels. High inflammatory state can promote activation of blood coagulation through release of inflammatory cytokines (eg, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-alpha).1

Perhaps even more intriguing is the finding of extremely high levels of factor VIII found in some Covid-19 patients which could make them hypercoagulable.7 This phenomenon should be suspected when a patient appears to be resistant to anticoagulation by heparin based on aPTT but not based on anti-Xa assay.7

 Bonus pearl: Did you know that the overall incidence of VTE is lowest among Asians-Pacific islanders, followed by Hispanics and Caucasians, with highest rate among African-Americans? 1 ,8

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  1. Fogarty H, Townsend L, Cheallaigh CN, et al. COVID-19 coagulopathy in Caucasian patients. Br J Haematol 2020, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/bjh.16749
  2. Cui S, Chen S, Li X, et al. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, et al. Prevalence of venous thromboembolism in patients with severe novel coronavirus pneumonia. J Thromb Haematol 2020, April 9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jth.14830
  3. Klok FA, Kruip MJHA, van der Meer NJM, et al. Incidence of thrombotic complications in critically ill ICU patients with COVID-19. Thromb Res 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049384820301201?via%3Dihub
  4. Helms J, Tacquard C, Severac F, et al. High risk of thrombosis in patients in severe SARS-CoV-2 infection: a multicenter prospective cohort study. Intensive Care Med 2020; https://www.esicm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/863_author_proof.pdf
  5. Oxley TJ, Mocco J, Majidie S, et al. Large-vessel stroke as a presenting feature of Covid-19 in the young. N Engl J Med. 2020, April 28. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2009787?query=featured_home
  6. Li Y, Wang M. Acute cerebrovascular disease following COVID-19: A single center, retrospective, observational study. 2020. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3550025
  7. Beun R, Kusadasi N, Sikma M, et al. Thromboembolic events and apparent heparin resistance in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. Int J Lab Hematol 2020, April 20. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ijlh.13230
  8. White RH, Keenan CR. Effects of race and ethnicity on the incidence of venous thromboembolism. Thromb Res 2009;123 Suppl 4:S11-S17. doi:10.1016/S0049-3848(09)70136-7

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

What’s the evidence that patients with Covid-19 are at high risk of blood clots?

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