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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References

  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?

Is there a connection between my patient’s blood type and risk of thromboembolic events?

The weight of the evidence to date seem to suggest that non-blood group O may be associated with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF)-related peripheral cardioembolic complications, myocardial infarction (MI) and ischemic stroke. 1-4

A 2015 retrospective Mayo Clinic study involving patients with NVAF adjusted for CHADS2 score found significantly lower rate of peripheral embolization in those with blood group O compared to those with other blood groups combined (3% vs 2%, O.R. 0.66, 95% CI, 0.5-0.8); rates of cerebral thromboembolic events were not significantly different between the 2 groups, however. 1

A 2008 systematic review and meta-analysis of studies spanning over 45 years reported a significant association between non-O blood group and MI, peripheral vascular disease, cerebral ischemia of arterial origin, and venous thromboembolism.2 Interestingly, the association was not significant for angina pectoris or for MI when only prospective studies were included.  Some studies have reported that the association between von Willebrand factor (VWF) and the risk of cardiovascular mortality may be independent of blood group. 5,6

Although the apparent lower risk of thromboembolic conditions in O blood group patients may be due to lower levels of VWF and factor VIII in this population 1,4, other pathways likely  play a role.7  

As for why the rate of peripheral (but not cerebral) thromboembolic events in NVAF is affected by blood group, one explanation is that because of their size, larger clots (facilitated by lower VWF levels) may bypass the carotid and vertebral orifices in favor of their continuation downstream to the “peripheral bed”.1

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References

  1. Blustin JM, McBane RD, Mazur M, et al. The association between thromboembolic complications and blood group in patients with atrial fibrillation. Mayo Clin Proc 2015;90;216-23. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002561961401043X
  2. Wu O, Bayoumi N, Vickers MA, et al. ABO (H) groups and vascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Thromb Haemostasis 2008;6:62-9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1538-7836.2007.02818.x
  3. Medalie JH, Levene C, Papier C, et al. Blood groups, myocardial infarction, and angina pectoris among 10,000 adult males. N Engl J Med 1971;285:1348-53. https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM197112092852404
  4. Franchini M, Capra F, Targher G, et al. Relationship between ABO blood group and von Willebrand factor levels: from biology to clinical implications. Thrombosis Journal 2007, 5:14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2042969/
  5. Meade TW, Cooper JA, Stirling Y, et al. Factor VIII, ABO blood group and the incidence of ischaemic heart disease. Br J Haematol 1994;88:601-7. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2141.1994.tb05079.x
  6. Jager A, van Hinsbergh VW, Kostense PJ, et al. von Willebrand factor, C-reactive protein, and 5-year mortality in diabetic and nondiabetic subjects: the Hoorn Study. Arterioscl Thromb Vasc Biol 1999;19:3071-78. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12709043_von_Willebrand_Factor_C-Reactive_Protein_and_5-Year_Mortality_in_Diabetic_and_Nondiabetic_Subjects_The_Hoorn_Study
  7. Sode BF, Allin KH, Dahl M, et al. Risk of venous thromboembolism and myocardial infarction associated with factor V Leiden and prothrombin mutations and blood type. CMAJ 2013.DOI:10.1503/cmaj.121636. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23382263
Is there a connection between my patient’s blood type and risk of thromboembolic events?

Does electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) pose a risk of embolic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF)?

Acute embolic stroke in the setting of AF without anticoagulation after ECT has been reported in a single case report in the absence of conversion to normal sinus rhythm (1). Several cases of episodic or persistent conversion to normal sinus rhythm (NSR) in patients with AF undergoing ECT have also been reported (in the absence of embolic stroke), leading some to recommend anticoagulation therapy in such patients (2), though no firm data exist.

The mechanism by which ECT promotes cardioversion from AF to NSR is unclear as direct electrical influence of ECT on the heart is thought to be negligible (1). Arrhythmias such as atrial flutter and AF have also been reported after ECT (1). Curiously, ECT is associated with increased 5- hydroxytryptamine (5- HT2)-receptor densities of platelets in patients with depression which may enhance platelet reactivity and increase the risk of embolic stroke (3) even in the absence of cardioversion.

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References

  1. Suzuki H, Takano T, Tominaga M, et al. Acute embolic stroke in a patient with atrial fibrillation after electroconvulsive therapy. J Cardiol Cases 2010; e12-e14. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878540910000113
  2. Petrides G, Fink M. Atrial fibrillation, anticoagulation, electroconvulsive therapy. Convulsive Therapy 1996;12:91-98. https://journals.lww.com/ectjournal/Abstract/1996/06000/Atrial_Fibrillation,_Anticoagulation,_and.4.aspx
  3. Stain-Malmgren R, Tham A, Ǻberg-Wistedt A. Increased platelet 5-HT2 receptor binding after electroconvulsive therapy in depression. J ECT 1998;14:15-24. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/9661089
Does electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) pose a risk of embolic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF)?

Which motor test may be the most useful maneuver when examining a patient suspected of having a stroke?

When limited by the number of motor tests that can be performed on a patient suspected of having a stroke, the pronator drift may be your best bet! This test may be positive in as many as 94% of patients within a week of having a stroke (1).  An advantage of this maneuver is that it can point to subtle lesions in the corticospinal tract (CST) often missed by formal strength testing.

To perform the test, ask the patient to hold his or her arms straight out in front with palms facing upwards and eyes closed for 20-30 seconds. Slight pronation of one hand and flexion of the elbow suggests mild drift. Additional downward drift of the entire arm may also be present with more severe deficits (2). Interestingly, if one arm drifts upward this suggests a lesions outside the CST, possibly a cerebellar or parietal lesion, which may be equally concerning.

 

References

  1. Louis ED, King D, Sacco R, et al. Upper motor neuron signs in acute stroke: prevalence, interobserver reliability, and timing of initial examination. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis 1995;5:49-55. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26486559 
  2. Campbell, WW. In DeJong’s The Neurologic Examination-6th Ed, p389-392, 2005. Lippincott Williams&Wilkins, Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Contributed by Alexis Roy, Harvard Medical Student, Boston, MA.

Which motor test may be the most useful maneuver when examining a patient suspected of having a stroke?