Image of Judith Hochman, M.D.

Moderately ill hospitalized COVID-19 patients who receive a full dose of blood thinner heparin have less need for organ support such as mechanical ventilation, and improved chances of leaving the hospital, a new trial has found.

This strategy did not affect the condition of critically ill patients who required intensive care, however, suggesting that treatments that may help one subgroup of patients can be unhelpful and even harmful in others, said Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which partly funded the study.

Investigators aimed to find how blood thinners and anticoagulants might be used to help prevent dangerous clot formation seen in some people who have died from COVID-19. Three international partners collaborated to study how moderately and critically ill patients hospitalized for COVID-19 would respond to the effects of using a full, therapeutic dose of the blood thinner heparin versus a low, or prophylactic dose.

Participants received one of either dosage for up to 14 days beginning in April 2020. Results showed that one month later, full doses of heparin increased the probability of survival until hospital discharge with reduced use of ICU-level organ support in moderately ill patients as compared with usual care blood clot prevention.

The results are a hopeful sign for this subgroup of patients, said study co-author Judith Hochman, M.D., senior associate dean for Clinical Sciences at New York University.  

“The medication evaluated in these trials is familiar to doctors around the world and is widely accessible, making the findings highly applicable to moderately ill COVID-19 patients,” she concluded.

The trial’s findings appear online in The New England Journal of Medicine.