Use of thrombolytic drugs in non-coronary disorders

M Verstraete
Drugs 1989, 38 (5): 801-21
Clinical experience with thrombolytics in non-coronary disorders is limited to the plasminogen activators streptokinase, urokinase and alteplase; therapeutic trials with anistreplase (APSAC) are almost, and with saruplase completely, limited to acute myocardial infarction. In terms of thrombus clearance, thrombolytic drugs are superior to heparin in patients with recent deep vein thrombosis in the pelvis or lower limbs. In aggregate, thrombi younger than 8 days are lysed in approximately 60% of patients treated with streptokinase, urokinase or alteplase. The results of studies assessing the subsequent development of the postphlebitic syndrome are conflicting, but most suggest that thrombolytic therapy can reduce symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency. Currently, the combination of systemic thrombolytic drugs followed by heparin is recommended for patients with acute major pulmonary embolism who are haemodynamically unstable. Streptokinase, urokinase and alteplase have all been shown to accelerate the lysis of pulmonary emboli and to decrease pulmonary vascular obstruction and pulmonary hypertension. Systemic venous or intrapulmonary infusions of alteplase offers the same benefit in terms of angiographic and haemodynamic improvement. A short infusion of 100 mg alteplase over 2 hours seems to be superior to a 24-hour infusion of urokinase. None of the thrombolytic trials in pulmonary embolism have been large enough to demonstrate a reduction in mortality. It is now generally accepted that, unless contraindicated, thrombolytic therapy is the front-line treatment for patients with massive pulmonary embolism and major haemodynamic disturbance. The local treatment of acute arterial occlusion in limb arteries results in rapid clearing of the artery in 67% of patients treated with streptokinase; the corresponding success rates for urokinase and alteplase are 81% and 88 to 94%, respectively. The main question appears to be the identification of patients in whom local thrombolysis is the treatment of choice, as opposed to established therapeutic modalities. Thrombolytic treatment following a major ischaemic stroke is hazardous, although clinical improvement has been noted in a minority of patients with recanalised cerebral arteries. The safety and efficacy of thrombolytic treatment remains unproven for this indication, and its use must be restricted to experimental protocols. Thrombolytic treatment in retinal artery or vein occlusion has, in practice, been abandoned.

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