Shortened activated partial thromboplastin time: causes and management

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Throughout the long history of the hemostasis laboratory, and as an evaluation of the coagulation cascade, the results of the activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) have primarily been considered as an index of loss-of-function and rarely as an index of gain-of-function. Nevertheless, there are now several clinical and technical reasons that no longer allow us to simply ignore or overlook shortened APTTs in laboratory practice. It has long been suspected that the leading cause of shortened APTTs are related to preanalytical problems, in which case it would be inappropriate for a laboratory to issue such a test result, which would expectedly not adequately mirror the patient's true condition. Should such artifactual results be reliably ruled out, that is by confirming short APTT values on subsequent samples, it would then be worth considering to troubleshoot potential causes, inasmuch as this phenomenon may reflect a variety of clinically meaningful conditions, including an increased risk of thromboembolic events, cancer, myocardial infarction, thyroid disorders, diabetes, and pregnancy. Although there are no univocal data supporting the origin of this singular phenomenon as yet, we strongly encourage the utility of postanalytical laboratory guidance, including a relevant short accompanying comment in the laboratory report linked to the APTT test result, for example, noting ‘Short APTT–potentially reflective of in-vitro activation of blood coagulation due to difficult collection. If the value is systematically confirmed in subsequent samples, please contact the laboratory to help assess the cause’.

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