Also Known As
Heparin-PF4 Antibody
HIT Antibody
HIT PF4 Antibody
Heparin Induced Antibody
Heparin Associated Antibody
Formal Name
Heparin-induced Thrombocytopenia Platelet Factor 4 Antibody
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on
12 January 2018.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To detect antibodies against the anticoagulant heparin, to help diagnose immune-mediated heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT II). There is also a non-immune mediated HIT (type I) that occurs when heparin binds directly to platelets, causing activation; it is more common than type II but is transient and a milder form.

When To Get Tested?

When you are receiving heparin therapy and your platelet count significantly decreases (thrombocytopenia), especially when you also have new blood clots (thrombosis)

Sample Required?

A blood sample taken from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?

None

On average it takes 7 working days for the blood test results to come back from the hospital, depending on the exact tests requested. Some specialist test results may take longer, if samples have to be sent to a reference (specialist) laboratory. The X-ray & scan results may take longer. If you are registered to use the online services of your local practice, you will be able to access your results online.

If the doctor wants to see you about the result(s), you will be offered an appointment. If you are concerned about your test results, you will need to arrange an appointment with your doctor so that all relevant information including age, ethnicity, health history, signs and symptoms, laboratory and other procedures (radiology, endoscopy, etc.), can be considered.

Lab Tests Online-UK is an educational website designed to provide patients and carers with information on laboratory tests used in medical care. We are not a laboratory and are unable to comment on an individual's health and treatment.

Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories.

For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

For more information on reference ranges, please read Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

This test detects and measures antibodies that are produced by some people when they are treated with heparin. Heparin is a common anticoagulant that is given intravenously or through subcutaneous injections to prevent the formation of blood clots (thrombosis) or as an initial treatment for those who have a blood clot, to prevent the clot from enlarging. It is often given during some operations, such as cardiopulmonary bypass, when the risk for developing blood clots is high. Small amounts of heparin are frequently used to flush out catheters and intravenous lines to keep clots from forming in them.

When a person is given heparin, the drug can combine with a substance found in platelets called platelet factor 4 (PF4) and form a complex. In some people, the body's immune system recognises the heparin-PF4 complex as "foreign" and produces an antibody directed against it. This antibody can activate platelets and lead to a drop in the number of platelets, a condition known as heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). It may also lead to the development of new thrombosis or worsening thrombosis.

Platelets are cells that are an important part of the blood clotting system. When a blood vessel is injured and leaks blood, platelets are activated and clump together at the site of the injury, and work with coagulation factors to promote clot formation and stop the bleeding.

Not everyone on heparin produces HIT antibodies, and not everyone with HIT antibodies develops a low platelet count, but about 1% to 5% of those with the antibodies do. In HIT, the antibodies bind to the heparin-PF4 complexes, which then attach to the surface of platelets. This activates the platelets, which in turn, triggers the release of more PF4. This starts a cycle that can cause a rapid and significant drop (e.g., 50% or more) in the number of platelets in the blood. Usually, a decrease in platelets results in a higher risk of bleeding, but in HIT, the activation of platelets by HIT antibodies can paradoxically lead to new and progressive blood clot formation in the veins and arteries. This occurs in about 30% to 50% of those who have the HIT antibody and thrombocytopenia.

This condition, associated with the presence of HIT antibody, low platelet count, and excessive clotting, is formally called immune-mediated heparin-induced thrombocytopenia or HIT type II. It typically develops about 5-10 days after a person starts heparin therapy but may also develop rapidly, within 1-2 days, if a person has been treated with heparin in the last 3 months and starts treatment again.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    This test is performed to detect antibodies that develop in some people who have been treated with heparin. It is used to help establish a diagnosis of immune-mediated heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT type II) in someone who has a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) and excessive clotting (thrombosis).

    Heparin is an anticoagulant used to treat blood clots. In the body, heparin can combine with a substance call platelet factor 4 (PF4) to form a complex. Some people treated with heparin produce antibodies directed against this complex (HIT antibodies). A person who has HIT antibodies will not necessarily develop HIT II. Therefore, this test is most useful in those with a moderate to high likelihood of having HIT II, based upon the timing of heparin use, significant thrombocytopenia, and thrombosis. The test is typically requested along with or following a platelet count and may be followed by additional tests such as functional assays to confirm a finding.

    Functional assays, such as a serotonin release assay or heparin-induced platelet agglutination assay, are more specific for HIT II but take longer, are more technically demanding, and not widely available. These tests measure the effect a person's serum has on the function of "normal" platelets from healthy donors.

  • When is it requested?

    Since the development of HIT antibodies does not always lead to HIT II, testing is usually requested only when HIT II is clinically suspected.

    There is a pre-test scoring system that is typically used to determine a person's likelihood of having HIT II. It includes:

    • The extent of thrombocytopenia (platelet decrease of 50% or more from the pre-heparin therapy level)
    • The rate at which the platelet count fell (typically 5-10 days after initial heparin use and within 2 day for a second use within 3 months of previous use)
    • The presence of new thrombosis and/or lesions at the heparin injection site
    • Ruling out other causes of thrombocytopenia

    The HIT antibody test is performed when this pre-scoring test shows that a person has a moderate to high likelihood of having HIT II.

    Typically, an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) that detects HIT antibody is requested as an initial test. Functional testing such as a serotonin release assay (SRA) may be requested when the EIA test is indeterminate or negative but suspicion of HIT is still high.

  • What does the test result mean?

    The interpretation of HIT antibody results relies upon testing only people who have a moderate to high probability of having HIT II. Both false negatives and false positives can occur with this test and are more likely in those with a low probability of having HIT II.

    The presence of HIT antibodies in someone who has been treated with heparin for 5 to 10 days, has a platelet count that has decreased by 50% or more, and has new or progressive thrombosis means that it is likely the person has HIT II.

    The presence of HIT antibodies in someone who has received heparin within the last 3 months and is experiencing significant thrombocytopenia within a day or two of re-starting heparin therapy may also indicate HIT II.

    If HIT testing is indeterminate and confirmatory testing is positive in a person with clinical signs of HIT, then it is likely the person has HIT II.

    If the test is negative for HIT antibodies, then it is unlikely that the person has HIT II. If confirmatory testing is performed and it is also negative, then it is likely that the person's symptoms are due to another cause.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    The majority of people who produce HIT antibodies will not develop HIT II (i.e., have significant thrombocytopenia and thrombosis).

    Many conditions and diseases other than HIT can cause thrombocytopenia by affecting platelet production or loss (destruction). In addition to heparin, there are several other medications that can cause drug-induced thrombocytopenia and antiplatelet antibodies.

    Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia type I (HIT type I) may be seen in people who are receiving heparin, but HIT I tends to be a more mild condition that is not associated with an immune reaction.

    There are two types of heparin that may be used in treatment: standard or unfractionated heparin (UFH) and low-molecular weight heparin (LMWH). HIT II can develop in anyone receiving UFH but is more likely in those who have had surgery. The condition is rare in children. Low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) does not generally cause HIT II, but it can. Once a person has developed HIT II with UFH, they are more likely to develop HIT with LMWH.

    It is rare but possible for people to develop HIT antibodies, even when the only heparin that they are exposed to is the small amount used to flush out their intravenous line or catheter.

  • Can the heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) antibody test be done in my doctor’s surgery?

    No. It requires specialised equipment and is not offered by every laboratory. It may be necessary to send your blood to a reference laboratory.

  • If I have an HIT antibody, will it go away?

    The amount of antibody will generally decrease after several months, but the affected person may develop it again if more heparin is given.

  • How long is someone usually treated with heparin?

    In most cases, a person is on heparin for a short period of time and then transitioned to another anticoagulant. Pregnant women who need anticoagulation may receive low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) for extended periods of time.

  • Should I tell all of my doctors that I have an HIT antibody?

    Yes. This is important information for your doctors to know as it may affect other procedures and some of your treatment options.