Heparin is an anticoagulant drug that prevents the formation of new clots as well as the expansion of clots that already exist.
Heparin occurs naturally in the body and is produced by basophils and mast cells. Heparin does not break down clots directly, but enhances the body’s natural clot lysis mechanisms.
Pharmaceutical-grade heparin is derived from the mucosal tissue of animals that have been slaughtered for meat such as pigs and cattle. Research conducted between 2003 and 2008 eventually led to the synthetic development of low molecular weight heparins in 2011.
Some of the uses of heparin are described below:
- Heparin is widely used as an intravenous anticoagulation agent. It is also used to create an anticlotting surface inside various pieces of medical equipment such as dialysis machines. Test tubes, vacutainers and capillary tubes contain lithium heparin and are marked with green stickers and green tops. These are used for collecting and transporting blood samples for a wide range of tests.
- As an anticoagulant in medicine, heparin is used for the following:
- Acute coronary syndrome (ACS)
- Atrial fibrillation or abnormally fast heart rhythm
- Deep vein thrombosis or DVT
- Pulmonary embolism
- Cardiopulmonary bypass
- ECMO circuits used for extracorporeal life support.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc