Unfractionated heparin therapy is care intensive because of dose-response variability, and because of the necessity of constant intravenous infusion and frequent monitoring. We sought to assess the real-world course of transition from heparin to warfarin in hospitalized patients undergoing anticoagulation therapy for acute venous or arterial thrombosis at our medical center.
Patients were retrospectively identified from July 1998 to December 1998. Data collected included initiation and maintenance doses of heparin, frequency of monitoring and dose adjustments, time to the therapeutic range, complications and interruptions of therapy, and characteristics of heparin-to-warfarin transition.
Of the 311 patients who met the study criteria during the 6-month period, 134 had venous thromboembolism, 122 had cerebral arterial thrombosis, and 55 had peripheral arterial thrombosis. Groups differed in use and magnitude of initial heparin bolus, frequency of monitoring, and time to the therapeutic range. Dose response to intravenous heparin was highly variable. Even when the activated partial thromboplastin time reached the therapeutic range of 55 to 85 seconds, the next 2 consecutive measurements remained in this range in only 29% of the patients. Patients received an average of 4 different heparin doses over the first 3 days of treatment, and the therapeutic range was maintained on each of 4 sequential days in only 7% of them. During the course of therapy, 54% of the patients had at least 1 prolonged interruption in heparin infusion, and 4.8% sustained a major hemorrhage. Overall, 20% of the patients met the currently recommended treatment guideline of 4 days or more of heparin and warfarin overlap, until the international normalized ratio is greater than 2.0 for 2 consecutive days.
Multiple challenges to effective anticoagulation treatment with unfractionated heparin exist in the hospital setting. Strategies are needed to improve the overall quality of anticoagulant care, including the substitution of low-molecular-weight heparin for unfractionated heparin, where appropriate.