Previously, we demonstrated that hypofibrinolysis, a decreased capacity to dissolve a blood clot as measured with an overall clot lysis assay, increases the risk of venous thrombosis. Here, we investigated the combined effect of hypofibrinolysis with established risk factors associated with hypercoagulability.
Methods and Findings
Fibrinolytic potential was determined with a plasma-based clot lysis assay in 2,090 patients with venous thrombosis and 2,564 control participants between 18 and 70 y of age enrolled in the Multiple Environmental and Genetic Assessment (MEGA) of risk factors for venous thrombosis study, a population-based case-control study on venous thrombosis. Participants completed a standardized questionnaire on acquired risk factors.
Hypofibrinolysis alone, i.e., clot lysis time (CLT) in the fourth quartile (longest CLT) (in absence of the other risk factor of interest) increased thrombosis risk about 2-fold relative to individuals with CLT in the first quartile (shortest CLT). Oral contraceptive use in women with CLT in the first quartile gave an odds ratio (OR) of 2.6 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.6 to 4.0), while women with hypofibrinolysis who used oral contraceptives had an over 20-fold increased risk of venous thrombosis (OR 21.8, 95% CI 10.2 to 46.7). For immobilization alone the OR was 4.3 (95% CI 3.2 to 5.8) and immobilization with hypofibrinolysis increased the risk 10.3-fold (95% CI 7.7 to 13.8). Factor V Leiden alone increased the risk 3.5-fold (95% CI 2.3 to 5.5), and hypofibrinolysis in factor V Leiden carriers gave an OR of 8.1 (95% CI 5.3 to 12.3). The combination of hypofibrinolysis and the prothrombin 20210A mutation did not synergistically increase the risk. All ORs and 95% CIs presented are relative to individuals with CLT in the first quartile and without the other risk factor of interest.
The combination of hypofibrinolysis with oral contraceptive use, immobilization, or factor V Leiden results in a risk of venous thrombosis that exceeds the sum of the individual risks.
Frits Rosendaal and colleagues show that the combination of hypofibrinolysis with oral contraceptive use, immobilization, or factor V Leiden results in a risk of venous thrombosis that exceeds the sum of the individual risks.
When a blood vessel is injured, proteins in the blood called clotting factors “coagulate” (solidify) the blood at the injury site. The resultant clot (thrombus) plugs the wound and prevents blood loss. When the injury has healed, other proteins dissolve the clot, a process called “fibrinolysis.” Sometimes, however, a thrombus develops inside an undamaged blood vessel and partly or completely blocks the blood flow. A clot that occurs in one of the veins (vessels that take the blood to the heart) deep within the body (usually in the leg) is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some DVTs have no symptoms; others cause pain, swelling, and tenderness in one leg. They are usually treated with heparin and warfarin, anticoagulant drugs that stop the clot growing. If left untreated, part of the clot (an embolus) can break off and travel to the lungs, where it can cause a life-threatening condition called a pulmonary embolism (PE).
Why Was This Study Done?
Most people are very unlikely to develop venous thrombosis (the collective term for DVT and PE), but anything that makes blood “hypercoagulable” (prone to clotting) increases this risk. Genetic risk factors can be inherited changes in blood clotting proteins (for example, a mutation in a gene coding for one protein, factor V, which is involved in clotting, is known as factor V Leiden—Leiden, The Netherlands, was where it was first described). There are also acquired risk factors such as taking oral contraceptives or being immobilized (for example, during bed rest). These risk factors often act in such a way that the risk of developing venous thrombosis for a person with multiple risk factors is greater than the sum of the individual risks. Another recently identified but little studied risk factor for venous thrombosis is “hypofibrinolysis,” a decreased capacity to dissolve blood clots. In this study (part of the “MEGA” study on risk factors for venous thrombosis), the researchers investigate the combined effect of hypofibrinolysis and established risk factors associated with hypercoagulability on the risk of developing venous thrombosis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected blood from more than 2,000 individuals after their first DVT or PE and from a similar number of persons without venous thrombosis (controls). For each blood sample, they measured the time it took to dissolve a clot generated from that blood in a test tube (the clot lysis time or CLT) and determined which participants had the factor V Leiden mutation or a genetic change in the clotting factor prothrombin that also increases blood coagulability. The study participants also completed a questionnaire about acquired risk factors for venous thrombosis. The researchers divided the participants into four equal-sized groups (quartiles) based on their CLT and used the quartile with the lowest CLT as the reference group for their statistical analyses; hypofibrinolysis was defined as a CLT in the highest quartile (the longest times). Participants with hypofibrinolysis alone were twice as likely to develop venous thrombosis as those with a CLT in the lowest quartile (the shortest times). Oral contraceptive use alone increased the risk of venous thrombosis 2.5-fold, whereas the combination of oral contraceptive use and hypofibrinolysis increased the risk 20-fold. The researchers also found synergistic effects on thrombosis risk for hypofibrinolysis combined with immobilization or with the factor V Leiden mutation but not with the prothrombin mutation.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings confirm that persons with hypofibrinolysis and hence longer CLTs have a greater risk of developing venous thrombosis than those with short CLTs. Because CLTs were measured after venous thrombosis had occurred, hypofibrinolysis could be an effect rather than a cause of this condition. However, this is unlikely because there was no association between how long after the venous thrombosis the blood sample was taken and the measured CLT. These findings also show that the combination of hypofibrinolysis with immobilization, the factor V Leiden mutation, and oral contraceptive use greatly increases the risk of venous thrombosis. This new information about the risk factors for venous thrombosis should help physicians to advise patients about reducing their chances of developing this life-threatening condition.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050097.
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism (in English and Spanish)
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provides information on deep vein thrombosis, including an animation about how DVT causes pulmonary embolisms
The UK National Health Service Direct health encyclopedia provides information for patients on deep vein thrombosis (in several languages)
More information about the Multiple Environmental and Genetic Assessment of risk factors for venous thrombosis (MEGA) study is available on the Leiden University Medical Center Web site
Wikipedia has pages on coagulation and on fibrinolysis (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)