The activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) is used to adjust heparin sodium dosage. However, warfarin sodium is often administered concomitantly with heparin and may also affect the APTT and, therefore, heparin dose. We performed a prospective cohort study to quantify the effect of warfarin on the APTT in patients who are being treated with heparin.
Serial assays of APTT, international normalized ratio, heparin levels, and functional levels of prothrombin (factor II) and factors VII and X were performed in 24 patients with acute venous thromboembolism who were treated with concomitant continuous intravenous heparin and warfarin. The effects of warfarin, as expressed by international normalized ratio and coagulation factor levels, on APTT were determined.
Warfarin markedly affected APTT; for each increase of 1.0 in the international normalized ratio, the APTT increased 16 seconds (95% confidence interval, 10-22 seconds). The effects of warfarin and heparin on APTT were additive. Consequently, warfarin markedly altered the relationship between APTT and heparin levels; of the 29 blood samples with supratherapeutic APTT, 13 had a therapeutic heparin level and 10 had a subtherapeutic heparin level.
In patients receiving concomitant heparin and warfarin therapy, APTT reflects the combined effects of both drugs. Because of the marked effect of warfarin on the APTT, decreasing heparin dose in response to a high APTT frequently results in subtherapeutic heparin levels.