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Systemic anticoagulation related to heparin locking of non-tunnelled venous dialysis catheters in intensive care patients

Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, Queensland


Heparin locking of venous dialysis catheters is routinely performed in intensive care to maintain catheter patency when the catheters are not being used. Leakage of heparin into the circulation can potentially cause systemic anticoagulation and may present a risk to intensive care patients. To assess the effect of 5000 units per millilitre heparin locking of non-tunnelled dialysis catheters on systemic anticoagulation, we performed a prospective observational study of ten intensive care patients receiving heparin locking of dialysis catheters in an adult tertiary intensive care unit between July and September 2015. Activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) was measured prior to, and three minutes after, heparin locking of catheter lumens with the manufacturer’s recommended locking volume to assess the effect on systemic anticoagulation. Heparin locking of venous dialysis catheters resulted in a significant rise in APTT (P=0.002). The median rise was by 56 seconds (interquartile range 30–166.5). Following heparin locking, 80% of patients had APTT values within or above the range associated with therapeutic anticoagulation. Heparin locking of non-tunnelled venous dialysis catheters can cause systemic anticoagulation in intensive care patients and therefore poses a potential risk to patient safety.

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