These days, trauma professionals see quite a few patients who take antiplatelet agents for cardiovascular comorbidities. These drugs can be problematic when the patients sustain injuries that result in bleeding in problematic areas like the cranial vault.
Aspirin and clopidogrel are the most common medications, and they irreversibly inhibit platelet aggregation. All exposed platelets essentially quit working for the remainder of their 10-day lifespan. Platelet aggregation improves slowly over time after cessation of the drug as new platelets are added to the circulation from the bone marrow.
But what can you do if you are concerned that your patient is bleeding after injury because their platelets are not working? It seems logical that you would just transfuse some new platelets. But you should know by now that not everything that makes sense really works. A group in France designed a study to test this premise in patients taking either aspirin or clopidogrel. They performed a prospective, observational study on patients presenting with potentially life-threatening hemorrhage.
The authors used the Verify Now device to measure platelet response to the two drugs. Patients who had normal platelet function in the first place (not compliant or not a responder to the therapy) were excluded. All patients had initial platelet counts greater than 100K/ml. They underwent platelet transfusion for management of hemorrhagic shock, intracranial hemorrhage, or an emergent neurosurgical procedure.
Here are the factoids:
- Only 25 patients were enrolled during the three year study; 13 were receiving only aspirin, 8 clopidogrel only, and 4 combined therapy
- Average transfusions were 1-2 apheresis packs of platelets (6-12 units)
- For aspirin patients, all showed significant platelet dysfunction before transfusion, and all but one showed recovery of function post-transfusion
- For clopidogrel patients, platelet function remained impaired; the percent of inhibited platelets decreased but remained above the study threshold for “normal” of 20%
Bottom line: This is a very small study, but drives home the point that clopidogrel and its relatives may be problematic in bleeding patients. The active metabolites of this drug class are not well understood. But they are most likely still circulating in the blood in patients actively taking them, and deactivate new platelets as soon as they are transfused (assuming that the transfused platelets have good function in the first place).
This issue requires further study so we can really tease out the actions of the drugs and their effect on transfused platelets. Until then, carefully consider whether platelet transfusion will be helpful in your bleeding patients, and if it is even worthwhile giving them or waiting for them to finish prior to going to the operating room.
Reference: Is platelet transfusion efficient to restore platelet reactivity in patients who are responders to aspirin and/or clopidogrel before emergency surgery? J Trauma 74(5):1367-1369, 2013.