The role played by coagulation defects in the occurrence of bleeding in cirrhosis is still unclear. This is partly due to the lack of tests that truly reflect the balance of procoagulant and anticoagulant factors in vivo. Conventional coagulation tests such as prothrombin time and activated partial thromboplastin time are inadequate to explore the physiological mechanism regulating thrombin, because they do not allow full activation of the main anticoagulant factor, protein C, whose levels are considerably reduced in cirrhosis. We used a thrombin generation test to investigate the coagulation function in patients with cirrhosis. Thrombin generation measured without thrombomodulin was impaired, which is consistent with the reduced levels of procoagulant factors typically found in cirrhosis. However, when the test was modified by adding thrombomodulin (i.e., the protein C activator operating in vivo), patients generated as much thrombin as controls. Hence, the reduction of procoagulant factors in patients with cirrhosis is compensated by the reduction of anticoagulant factors, thus leaving the coagulation balance unaltered. These findings help clarify the pathophysiology of hemostasis in cirrhosis, suggesting that bleeding is mainly due to the presence of hemodynamic alterations and that conventional coagulation tests are unlikely to reflect the coagulation status of these patients. In conclusion, generation of thrombin is normal in cirrhosis. For a clinical validation of these findings, a prospective clinical trial is warranted where the results of thrombin generation in the presence of thrombomodulin are related to the occurrence of bleeding.
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