COVID-19 causes hypercoagulability, but the association between coagulopathy and hypoxemia in critically ill patients has not been thoroughly explored. This study hypothesized that severity of coagulopathy would be associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome severity, major thrombotic events, and mortality in patients requiring intensive care unit–level care.


Viscoelastic testing by rotational thromboelastometry and coagulation factor biomarker analyses were performed in this prospective observational cohort study of critically ill COVID-19 patients from April 2020 to October 2020. Statistical analyses were performed to identify significant coagulopathic biomarkers such as fibrinolysis-inhibiting plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 and their associations with clinical outcomes such as mortality, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation requirement, occurrence of major thrombotic events, and severity of hypoxemia (arterial partial pressure of oxygen/fraction of inspired oxygen categorized into mild, moderate, and severe per the Berlin criteria).


In total, 53 of 55 (96%) of the cohort required mechanical ventilation and 9 of 55 (16%) required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation–naïve patients demonstrated lysis indices at 30 min indicative of fibrinolytic suppression on rotational thromboelastometry. Survivors demonstrated fewer procoagulate acute phase reactants, such as microparticle-bound tissue factor levels (odds ratio, 0.14 [0.02, 0.99]; P = 0.049). Those who did not experience significant bleeding events had smaller changes in ADAMTS13 levels compared to those who did (odds ratio, 0.05 [0, 0.7]; P = 0.026). Elevations in plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (odds ratio, 1.95 [1.21, 3.14]; P = 0.006), d-dimer (odds ratio, 3.52 [0.99, 12.48]; P = 0.05), and factor VIII (no clot, 1.15 ± 0.28 vs. clot, 1.42 ± 0.31; P = 0.003) were also demonstrated in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation–naïve patients who experienced major thrombotic events. Plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 levels were significantly elevated during periods of severe compared to mild and moderate acute respiratory distress syndrome (severe, 44.2 ± 14.9 ng/ml vs. mild, 31.8 ± 14.7 ng/ml and moderate, 33.1 ± 15.9 ng/ml; P = 0.029 and 0.039, respectively).


Increased inflammatory and procoagulant markers such as plasminogen activator inhibitor 1, microparticle-bound tissue factor, and von Willebrand factor levels are associated with severe hypoxemia and major thrombotic events, implicating fibrinolytic suppression in the microcirculatory system and subsequent micro- and macrovascular thrombosis in severe COVID-19.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • The host defense response to COVID-19 is thromboinflammation, a pathophysiologic response that produces hypercoagulability to minimize acute infectious injury
  • However, in patients without previous immunity and/or vaccination, thrombosis, acute lung injury, and multiorgan injury can progress, necessitating intensive care unit–level care and potentially the need for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • Based on measured biomarkers including increased plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 levels and viscoelastic testing, fibrinolytic suppression was associated with severe hypoxemia, worsening respiratory failure, and thrombotic events
  • These findings further support the role of fibrinolytic shutdown as a major pathophysiologic cause of microcirculatory thrombosis and worse outcomes in severe COVID-19