Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) is an adverse drug reaction presenting as a prothrombotic disorder related to antibody-mediated platelet activation. It is a poorly understood paradoxical immune reaction resulting in thrombin generation in vivo, which leads to a hypercoagulable state and the potential to initiate venous or arterial thrombosis. A number of factors are thought to influence the incidence of HIT including the type and preparation of heparin (unfractionated heparin (UFH) or low molecular weight heparin (LMWH)) and the heparin-exposed patient population, with the postoperative patient population presenting a higher risk.
Although LMWH has largely replaced UFH as a front-line therapy, there is evidence supporting a lack of superiority of LMWH compared with UFH regarding prevention of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism following surgery, and similar frequencies of bleeding have been described with LMWH and UFH. The decision as to which of these two preparations of heparin to use may thus be influenced by adverse reactions such as HIT. We therefore sought to determine the relative impact of UFH and LMWH specifically on HIT in postoperative patients receiving thromboembolism prophylaxis.