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Epidemiology of thrombosis in HIV-infected individuals

Sullivan, Patrick S.a; Dworkin, Mark S.a; Jones, Jeffrey L.a; Hooper, W. Craig*the Adult/Adolescent Spectrum of HIV Disease Project

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Persons with HIV infection or AIDS may be at increased risk of thrombosis (venous thrombosis or pulmonary thromboembolism) because of decreased plasma concentrations of protein S [1,2] high levels of anticardiolipin antibodies [3] heparin cofactor II deficiency [4] venous damage related to injection drug use [5] tumors such as Kaposi's sarcoma [6] cytomegalovirus disease [7] therapy with megestrol acetate [8] or indinavir [9] or the chronic use of venous catheters [10] The early recognition of venous thrombosis is important because it often precedes pulmonary embolism, a preventable and common cause of death when hospitalized [10] The incidence of thrombosis has not been described for persons with HIV infection.


Data from January 1990 to December 1998 were analysed from patients in the Adult/Adolescent Spectrum of HIV Disease Surveillance (ASD) Project, a multicenter medical record review in 102 clinics in nine US cities, the methods of which have been described [11] A standardized instrument was used to collect information from medical records on the patients' clinical conditions and treatments at baseline and every 6 months until the patient's death or the last contact with the patient.

Individuals who had no prospective follow-up (i.e. for whom we had only an abstraction from the baseline record) were excluded. Because the definition of thrombosis was based on ICD-9 codes and one project site did not collect ICD-9 diagnosis codes after January 1995, records abstracted at that site after that date were excluded.

Thrombosis was defined by the ICD-9 codes 415.1 (pulmonary embolism and infarction), 434.0 (cerebral thrombosis), 452 (portal vein thrombosis), 453.2 (vena cava thrombosis), 453.3 (renal vein thrombosis), 453.8 (thrombosis of other specified veins), and 453.9 (thrombosis of unspecified site). The incidence of thrombosis per 1000 person-years (PY) of follow-up was calculated, with 95% confidence intervals (CI). The distribution of anatomical sites of thrombosis was determined according to ICD-9 codes. The cause of death was determined for patients who died during follow-up from the death certificate or from medical record abstraction; the proportion of patients with an antemortem diagnosis of thrombosis, for whom thrombosis was indicated as a cause of death, was calculated.

For logistic regression analysis, PROC GENMOD (SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA) and generalized equation estimates were used, controlling for repeated observations of individuals over time, to determine factors independently associated with thrombosis among individuals with HIV infection. Regressors were demographic characteristics and factors reported in the medical literature as being associated with thrombosis (Table 1). Results are expressed as adjusted odds ratios with 95% CI.

Table 1
Table 1:
Regression model of factors associated with thrombosis (pulmonary thromboembolism or venous thrombosis) among HIV-infected individuals followed in the Adult/Adolescent Spectrum of HIV Disease Project


A total of 335 instances of thrombosis were documented in 273 patients during 103 263 PY among 42 935 individuals. The incidence of thrombosis was 2.6/1000 PY (95% CI, 2.3–3.0), considering only the first thrombosis diagnosis for each patient. The incidence was lower for individuals with immunological AIDS (CD4 T lymphocyte count of < 200 cells/μl; 1.8/1000 PY; CI, 1.2–2.5) or HIV infection and no AIDS (1.3/1000 PY; CI, 1.1–1.6) than for persons with clinical AIDS (6.2/1000 PY; CI, 5.2–7.2). For 230 persons, only one thrombotic event was recorded; for 43 persons, more than one thrombotic event was recorded. The first recorded thrombotic events were most commonly: venous thrombosis, unspecified vein (111, 41%); venous thrombosis, specified vein (104, 38%); and pulmonary embolism (50, 18%). Among patients with an antemortem diagnosis of thrombosis, 167 (61%) died during follow-up. For 22 (13%) of these, thrombosis was indicated as a cause of death on the death certificate or in medical records.

In regression analysis, complete regressor information was available for 85 903 PY (171 805 6 month abstraction intervals) of follow-up; 324 thrombotic events were documented. Thrombosis was significantly associated with an age of 45 or more years, hospitalization, the prescription of megestrol acetate or indinavir in the past 6 months, and a diagnosis of cytomegalovirus (disease or retinitis) or other AIDS-defining opportunistic illness (Table 1). Of the thrombotic events in this analysis, 172 (53%) occurred in individuals without a history of recent hospitalization.


The medical literature contains case reports of thrombosis in persons with HIV infection: pulmonary embolism [13] retinal vein [14–17] peripheral vein [13,18] cerebral vein [19] and portal vein [9,20] thrombosis have been reported. The results of this analysis are consistent with earlier studies in that an association was found between thrombosis and the prescription of megestrol acetate [8,10] or indinavir [9] and cytomegalovirus disease [7] No increased risk of thrombosis was found among people who had injected drugs [5] probably because of the small number of current drug users in the analysis.

Thrombosis in individuals not known to be infected with HIV is associated with venous stasis, impaired anticoagulant response, decreased fibrinolysis, and vascular wall damage. For individuals with HIV infection, these predisposing factors may be present or exacerbated because of HIV disease. However, there are other, biologically plausible reasons why people with HIV infection may have an added risk of thrombosis. Acquired protein S deficiency may result in an hypercoagulable state, and certain opportunistic illnesses (such as cytomegalovirus disease [21] may alter the vascular endothelium. Increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines may also increase the risk of thrombosis by inducing a procoagulant state in the endothelium. Cytomegalovirus infection has also been associated with thrombosis after liver transplantation [22] this association is thus not unique to individuals with HIV infection, and may be attributable to local procoagulant changes in the vascular endothelium, or to associated clinical interventions such as use of intravenous devices. These data indicate that factors other than a high rate of hospitalization are associated with thrombosis among HIV-infected individuals; over half of the diagnoses in this analysis occurred in individuals with no history of hospitalization.

The ASD project includes diverse study sites and populations [11] but these data are not necessarily representative of all HIV-infected individuals in the United States. Furthermore, the under-ascertainment of thrombosis among ASD participants is likely because the project was not designed to document this condition and because many occurrences of thrombosis are asymptomatic and undiagnosed [10] Because of ambiguity in the ICD-9 coding scheme, some ICD-9 codes could represent occlusion of a vessel by a thrombus or by another mechanism. Also, physician diagnoses of thrombosis as documented in the medical record may include presumptive and confirmed cases.

We considered the possibility that the receipt of megestrol acetate and indinavir might be associated with thrombosis because of mutual association with other factors, such as dehydration and debilitation or advanced stage of disease. We attempted to address this concern by controlling for the diagnosis of wasting syndrome, for which megestrol acetate may be prescribed, and by including other protease inhibitors in the statistical model.

The relative importance of all predisposing factors for thrombosis could not be evaluated because we did not collect information on laboratory variables such as protein S levels, anticardiolipin antibodies, and heparin II cofactor. It is possible that these factors explain the association of thrombosis and clinical AIDS diagnoses (e.g. advanced stage of disease) in this analysis.

From these findings, physicians should be alert for thrombosis in recently hospitalized HIV-infected patients, those with AIDS-defining opportunistic illnesses, and those receiving indinavir or megestrol acetate. Because age greater than 45 years is associated with thrombosis, thrombosis may occur more commonly as the HIV-infected population ages. Further study is needed to determine the importance and the mechanism of the association between the prescription of indinavir and thrombosis.


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    Adult/Adolescent Spectrum of HIV Disease Project Investigators

    Susan Buskin, PhD, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, Seattle, Washington; Arthur Davidson, MD, Denver Department of Health and Hospitals, Denver, Colorado; William McCarthy, PhD, AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia; Sharon Melville, MD, MPH, Texas Department of Health, Austin, Texas; Kaye Reynolds, Department of Health and Human Services, Houston, Texas; Judy Sackoff, PhD, New York City Department of Health, New York, New York; Frank Sorvillo, PhD, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Los Angeles, California; Susan Troxler, RN, MPH, Louisiana Department of Health, New Orleans, Louisiana; and Linda Wotring, PhD, Michigan Department of Community Health, Detroit, Michigan.


    epidemiology; hematology; thrombosis

    © 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.