Heparin: What Is Heparin?

Heparin After Surgery

Four Surgeons At Work
Four Surgeons At Work. Photo: MedioImages / Getty Images

What is Heparin?

Heparin is an anticoagulant commonly used after surgery. It prevents the blood from clotting too easily. It is also used to treat blood clots when they do form, helping prevent the clot from increasing in size and preventing additional clots from occurring. Surgery increases the risk of blood clots and Heparin is an important preventative measure after your procedure.

Why Is Heparin Given After Surgery?

Heparin is often given after surgery, particularly in patients who remain hospitalized for several days after surgery, to prevent blood clots from forming.

Patients who are unable to get out of bed in the days following surgery are at greater risk of forming clots, making heparin a commonly used drug in intensive care units.

Heparin is given subcutaneously, meaning it is injected into the body in an area such as the abdomen, and also given intravenously (IV).

Heparin Dosage After Surgery

Heparin dosages vary widely from patient to patient and are dependent upon the use of the medication. Small amounts can be added to IV fluids to keep an IV line flowing freely; larger amounts may be injected several times a day to prevent clotting. IV heparin is titrated, or adjusted, according to lab results, so the dose is unique to the patient.

In children, the dosage is based upon weight. So while the dosages are significantly smaller than adult doses, they are also individualized.

Risks of Heparin

It is not uncommon for bruising to appear around heparin injections sites.

But small bruises are considered a normal side effect of administration and are not typically signs of a problem.

Too much heparin can cause the blood to become too “thin” and can result in bleeding. An overdose of heparin, such as giving an infant an adult dose of the drug, can cause bleeding so severe that it can result in death.

The most common signs of heparin overdose include nosebleeds, blood in the urine or blood in the stool.

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia (HIT) is a rare complication of heparin administration. HIT happens when heparin causes a drastic reduction in the number of platelets, the blood cells that cause clotting. This can lead to bleeding, and, in some cases, severe bleeding. In most cases, stopping the delivery of heparin is an effective treatment.


Heparin Sodium Injection. USP. RxList.com http://www.rxlist.com/heparin-drug.htm

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