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Blood Coagul Fibrinolysis. 1999 Jul;10(5):215-27.

Clinically significant differences in the International Normalized Ratio measured with reagents of different sensitivities. SPAF Investigators. Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation.

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Department of Medicine, Evanston Hospital and Northwestern University Medical School, Illinois, USA.


The International Normalized Ratio (INR) system was introduced a decade ago as a way of standardizing the results of prothrombin time testing for patients taking oral anticoagulants. A strong emphasis has been placed upon using thromboplastin reagents that are very sensitive to the effects of oral anticoagulants upon the prothrombin time [i.e. reagents with low International Sensitivity Index (ISI)]. In order to assess how well the INR system functions as currently used in clinical laboratories, we compared the INRs determined using thromboplastins of differing ISIs in samples collected during a large clinical trial of oral anticoagulation for atrial fibrillation (Stroke Prevention in Atrial Fibrillation III trial). Frozen plasma was subjected to prothrombin time testing using thromboplastins with ISIs ranging from 0.97 to 2.49. INRs were calculated using machine-specific ISIs and Westgard's rules were followed to maintain quality control. An unanticipated coagulometer failure allowed a determination of the effect of machine recalibration upon the INR of control plasmas. The correlation between each pair of INRs obtained from 1181 plasmas was high (> 0.9), but the differences between reagents were statistically different from zero (P<0.001 for pairwise comparisons). Plasmas had INRs within the therapeutic range (2.0-3.0) with one reagent but not with another in an average of 20% of instances. Among the 20% discordant pairings, 43% (8.5% of the total tested) showed a difference in INR of more than 0.2 INR units above or below the target range. Low ISI thromboplastins did not perform better in this pairwise comparison than other reagents or the locally determined INR. Recalibration of a coagulometer resulted in a significant change in the INRs obtained from control plasmas (P<0.0001), which confirms and extends the observations of other authors concerning the sensitivity of the INR to coagulometer-related variables. There was a clinically significant difference in the INRs obtained with different thromboplastins, and low ISI reagents did not perform better than others. Since the risk of thrombosis rises sharply below the lower limit of the currently recommended target ranges, consideration should be given to narrowing the recommended range, or advising clinicians to aim for its mid-point. These findings illustrate the difficulties in imposing standardization upon coagulation testing after a test is in widespread use.

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