Severe hypoxia due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is challenging in the intensive care unit (ICU). It is often unresponsive to mechanical ventilation at high positive end-expiratory pressure and the fraction of inspired oxygen combination. The cause of such worsening hypoxia may be microvascular thrombosis in the pulmonary vascular system because of the procoagulant nature of COVID-19 infection. Confirming the diagnosis with computed tomographic pulmonary angiography is not always possible, as the patients are too sick to be shifted. Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is recommended for pulmonary thromboembolism with hypotension and worsening hypoxia, as confirmed by computed tomography pulmonary angiography. However, its role in worsening hypoxia because of presumed microthrombi in the pulmonary vasculature in COVID-19 is unclear. We present six cases from our ICU where we used low-dose tPA in COVID-19 refractory hypoxia with presumed microthrombi in the pulmonary vasculature (oligemic lung field, refractory hypoxia, increased D dimer, electrocardiographic features of pulmonary embolism, and right ventricular strain on echocardiography). Oxygenation improved within 6 h and was maintained for up to 48 h in all patients. Therefore, there is a possible role of microthrombi in the mechanism of hypoxia in this setting. An early decision to start low-dose tPA may improve the outcome. However, all patients finally succumbed to sepsis and multiorgan failure later in their course. A systematic review of the literature has also been performed on the mechanism of thrombosis and the use of tPA in hypoxia due to COVID-19.
About The Expert
Ratender Kumar Singh