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Crit Care. 2011 Jan 24;15(1):202. doi: 10.1186/cc9358.

Clinical review: anticoagulation for continuous renal replacement therapy--heparin or citrate?

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Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis, Oosterpark 9, 1091 AC Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Heparin is the most commonly prescribed anticoagulant for continuous renal replacement therapy. There is, however, increasing evidence questioning its safety, particularly in the critically ill. Heparin mainly confers its anticoagulant effect by binding to antithrombin. Heparin binds to numerous other proteins and cells as well, however, compromising its efficacy and safety. Owing to antithrombin consumption and degradation, and to the binding of heparin to acute phase proteins, and to apoptotic and necrotic cells, critical illness confers heparin resistance. The nonspecific binding of heparin further leads to an unpredictable interference with inflammation pathways, microcirculation and phagocytotic clearance of dead cells, with possible deleterious consequences for patients with sepsis and systemic inflammation. Regional anticoagulation with citrate does not increase the patient's risk of bleeding. The benefits of citrate further include a longer or similar circuit life, and possibly better patient and kidney survival. This needs to be confirmed in larger randomized controlled multicenter trials. The use of citrate might be associated with less inflammation and has useful bio-energetic implications. Citrate can, however, with inadequate use cause metabolic derangements. Full advantages of citrate can only be realized if its risks are well controlled. These observations suggest a greater role for citrate.

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