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Obesity, haemostasis and the fibrinolytic system


Address reprint requests to: LF Van Gaal, MD, PhD, Department of Diabetology, Metabolism and Clinical Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, University Hospital Antwerp, Wilrijkstraat 10, B-2650 Edegem, Antwerp, Belgium. E-mail:


Obese patients are at risk for the development of cardiovascular diseases, which can in part be explained by disturbances in the haemostatic and fibrinolytic systems. Indeed, obese subjects tend to have higher values of fibrinogen, factor VII, factor VIII, von Willebrand factor and plasminogen activator inhibitor compared to non-obese subjects. Abdominal obesity, in particular, has been shown to be associated with disturbances in fibrinogen, factor VIII and von Willebrand factor, while less consistent results have been found for factor VII. Recently it has been demonstrated that the adipocyte itself is able to produce plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, possibly explaining the high levels found in obesity. Different studies have investigated the association between haemostatic and fibrinolytic parameters and the insulin resistance syndrome, often present in obese subjects. Fibrinogen has been found to be related to insulin, but it has been suggested that this relationship is not independent of the accompanying inflammatory reaction. Results from studies on the relationship between insulin resistance and factor VII, factor VIII and von Willebrand factor levels are inconsistent. In contrast, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 has been found to correlate with all components of the insulin resistance syndrome, and can be considered as a true component of this metabolic syndrome. Weight loss seems to have a beneficial effect on factor VII – probably mediated through a reduction in triglycerides. Data on factor VIII and von Willebrand factor are scarce but weight loss does not seem to have an effect. Fibrinogen does not seem to be reduced by modest weight loss and a more substantial weight loss seems necessary to lower fibrinogen levels. In contrast, both modest and substantial weight loss have been found to significantly reduce plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 levels. In conclusion, the increased cardiovascular risk observed in obesity could in part be explained by the association between insulin resistance and components of the fibrinolytic and haemostatic systems. Whether this relationship is truly causal or indirect needs to be elucidated further.