The use of unfractionated heparin, the traditional antithrombotic agent during percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI), is associated with the risk of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, a rare but often fatal clinical condition. This article focuses on several issues related to heparin-induced immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (HIT, type II) and alternative modes of periprocedural anticoagulation in patients with suspected or known HIT.
The hypercoagulable state characterizing HIT, along with mechanical plaque disruption resulting from PCI place patients with HIT at particular risk of thrombosis during PCI. Given that a diagnosis of HIT precludes any further use of heparin, other treatment modalities are essential. Direct thrombin inhibitors are the drugs of choice in this challenging situation. These agents offer several advantages as anticoagulants for patients with HIT: (1) the ability to inhibit both thrombin that is bound to fibrin (clot-bound thrombin) and fluid-phase free thrombin; (2) rapid achievement of steady state; and (3) no cross-reactivity with HIT antibodies. Recent data on the use of bivalirudin, lepirudin, and argatroban in the setting of PCI in patients with HIT are encouraging. Optimal dosing regimens for argatroban, lepirudin, and bivalirudin should be further established in PCI patients.