What are the Risks of Fibrinolytic Therapy?

C.B. Fox

Fibrinolytic therapy is often used to treat patients who are at risk from blood clots. It treats thrombosis, or clotting, by increasing the patient’s production of the enzymes that break down blood clots. While clots can pose a health risk in some cases, they are a necessary part of the healing process and prevent the loss of large amounts of blood from cuts or sores. The main risk from fibrinolytic therapy is an increased risk of bleeding, but it is also possible for a patient to have severe side effects from the medications used or to suffer from a life threatening allergic reaction.

Fibrinolytic therapy targets blood clot formation.
Fibrinolytic therapy targets blood clot formation.

It is not possible for the medications used in this kind of therapy to target only the blood clots that pose a risk to the patient. As such, the medication breaks down clots throughout the blood stream. This can pose a significant risk for patients because large amounts of blood can be lost when clotting is impaired. Disruption of clotting can be life threatening, especially if the patient has been given medication that also prevents the formation of new blood clots, a common practice in fibrinolytic therapy.

Patients who have recently undergone surgery are at particular risk from blood loss due to fibrinolytic therapy. The blood clots that form after a surgery, even minor surgery, are necessary to keep the patient from continuing to bleed. Fibrinolytic therapy drugs can dissolve these clots, open the wounds again, and cause significant blood loss.

It is also risky for a patient who has a bleeding disorder to undergo fibrinolytic therapy. Stomach ulcers, organ disease, or internal hemorrhaging can be made worse by fibrinolytic drugs. Patients with a history of stroke are also at risk for a subsequent occurrence after taking these medications.

With any medication, including fibrinolytic therapy medications, there is always a risk that a patient may have a severe allergic reaction. Symptoms of allergic reaction can include a sudden fever, dizziness, swelling, rash, or shortness of breath. Extremely severe allergic reactions can cause a patient to go into a state of anaphylactic shock, which can lead to death if untreated. Fibrinolytic therapy is usually conducted in a hospital setting, so that anaphylaxis can be treated immediately.

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