Autopsy findings reveal venous thromboembolism in patients with COVID-19


Background: Despite the increased mortality rate of the novel coronavirus compared with influenza, little is understood about its pathogenicity. Prior studies have identified D-dimer levels, high Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score, and older age as markers for more severe disease and mortality. The specific cause of death of COVID-19 remains largely unknown.

Dr. Kristen E. Fletcher

Study design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Single academic center in Germany.

Synopsis: A complete autopsy was performed on 12 consecutive COVID-19 patient deaths at a single center. Seven had evidence of venous thromboembolism (VTE): three with bilateral lower extremity deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and four with massive pulmonary embolism/associated lower-extremity DVT. Prior to death, VTE was suspected clinically in only a single patient.

This small case series piques interest in the potential underrecognized thromboembolic pathology of COVID-19. While not practice changing, this study highlights the importance of hospitalists staying attuned to further studies regarding VTE prophylaxis in COVID-19.

Bottom line: Autopsies of COVID-19 patients revealed a high incidence of thromboembolic events; COVID-19–induced coagulopathy may play an underrecognized role in pathogenesis.

Citation: Wichmann D et al. Autopsy findings and venous thromboembolism in patients with COVID-19. Ann Intern Med. 2020;173(4):268-77.

Dr. Fletcher is a hospitalist at the Lexington (Ky.) VA Health Care System.

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