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Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2013 Jun;28(6):1589-602. doi: 10.1093/ndt/gft067. Epub 2013 Apr 5.

Use and safety of heparin-free maintenance hemodialysis in the USA.

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Division of Nephrology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, CA, USA.



Although heparin is used to anticoagulate the extracorporeal circuit for most patients on maintenance hemodialysis (HD), some patients undergo heparin-free HD. We describe the determinants of heparin-free HD and its association with adverse outcomes using data from a national dialysis provider merged with Medicare claims.


We identified patients aged ≥67 years with no recent history of warfarin use who initiated maintenance HD from 2007 to 2008. We applied the Cox regression to a propensity score-matched cohort to estimate the hazards of all-cause mortality, bleeding (gastrointestinal hemorrhage, hemorrhagic stroke, other hemorrhage), atherothrombosis (ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction) and venous thromboembolism (VTE) (deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism).


Among 12 468 patients, 836 (6.7%) were dialyzed heparin-free. In multivariable-adjusted analyses, a history of gastrointestinal bleeding, hemorrhagic stroke and lower hemoglobin and platelet counts were associated with higher odds of heparin-free HD. Heparin-free HD use also varied as much as 4-fold by facility region. We found no significant association of heparin-free HD with all-cause mortality [hazard ratio (HR) 1.08; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.94-1.26], bleeding (HR 1.15; 95% CI: 0.83-1.60), atherothrombosis (HR 1.09, 95% CI: 0.90-1.31) or VTE (HR 1.23, 95% CI: 0.93-1.64) compared with HD with heparin.


Patient markers of increased risk of bleeding and facility region associated with heparin-free HD use. Despite the potential benefits of avoiding heparin use, heparin-free HD was not significantly associated with decreased hazards of death, bleeding or thrombosis, suggesting that it may be no safer than HD with heparin.


anti-coagulation; gastrointestinal bleeding; hemodialysis; heparin; heparin-free

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