Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can make blood clotting cells “hyperactive,” which can cause potentially deadly clots, according to new research by University of Utah Health. 

Researchers found that COVID-19 produced inflammatory proteins, which can alter the function of platelets and makes the patient more prone to developing dangerous blood clots. In certain patients, this can lead to cardiovascular failure, according to the study. The risk is higher for patients with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. 

Researchers compared the blood of 41 patients with COVID-19 to blood samples from healthy individuals matched for age and sex. The patients were hospitalized at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Of the 41 patients, 17 were in the ICU, 9 of whom were on ventilators. According to the press release, COVID-19 platelets aggregated more readily, which alters how platelets interact with the immune system. Most surprisingly, the researchers found that COVID-19 was not detected in the vast majority of platelets. This can mean the genetic changes within these cells are indirect. 

According to the press release, one possible mechanism is inflammation. COVID-19 can affect the megakaryocytes, which are the cells that produce platelets. In test tube studies, researchers found that pre-treating infected platelets with aspirin prevented hyperactivity; however, further study is still needed. According to the press release, individuals should not treat COVID-19 with aspirin unless recommended by a physician. 

"We found that inflammation and systemic changes, due to the infection, are influencing how platelets function, leading them to aggregate faster, which could explain why we are seeing increased numbers of blood clots in COVID patients,” senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Robert A. Campbell, PhD, said in the press release. 

The researchers said they are exploring other treatment options. If they can determine how COVID-19 is interacting with megakaryocytes, they may be able to block that interaction and subsequently reduce the risk of blood clotting. 

Reference:

COVID-19 causes 'hyperactivity' in blood-clotting cells (News Release); Salt Lake City, UT; June 30, 2020; EurekAlert!; accessed July 1, 2020.