Heparin Rebound: An In-Depth Review

Published:December 23, 2022DOI:
      The common conception of “heparin rebound” invokes heparin returning to circulation in the postoperative period after apparently adequate intraoperative reversal with protamine. This is believed to portend increased postoperative bleeding and provides the rationale for administering additional empiric doses of protamine in response to prolonged coagulation tests and/or bleeding. However, the relevant literature of the last 60+ years provides only a weak level of evidence that “rebounded” heparin itself is a significant etiology of postoperative bleeding after cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass. Notably, many of the most frequently cited heparin rebound investigators ultimately concluded that although exceedingly low levels of heparin activity could be detected by anti-Xa assay in some (but not all) patients postoperatively, there was no correlation with actual bleeding. An understanding of the literature requires a careful reading of the details because the investigators lacked standardized definitions for “heparin rebound” and “adequate reversal” while studying the phenomenon with significantly different experimental methodologies and laboratory tests. This review was undertaken to provide a modern understanding of the “heparin rebound” phenomenon to encourage an evidence-based approach to postoperative bleeding. Literature searches were conducted via PubMed using the following MeSH terms: heparin rebound, heparin reversal, protamine, platelet factor 4, and polybrene. Relevant English language articles were reviewed, with subsequent references obtained from the internal citations. Perspective is provided for both those who use HepCon-guided management and those who do not, as are practical recommendations for the modern era based on the published data and conclusions of the various investigators.

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