Is Lupus Anticoagulant a Significant Feature of COVID-19? A Critical Appraisal of the Literature.
The term "lupus anticoagulant (LA)" identifies a form of antiphospholipid antibodies (aPLs) causing prolongation of clotting tests in a phospholipid concentration-dependent manner. LA is one of the laboratory criteria identified in patients with antiphospholipid (antibody) syndrome (APS). The presence of LA in patients with APS represents a significant risk factor for both thrombosis and pregnancy morbidity. There have been several reports of similarities between some of the pathophysiological features of COVID-19 and APS, in particular the most severe form, catastrophic APS. There have also been many reports identifying various aPLs, including LA, in COVID-19 patients. Accordingly, a very pertinent question arises: "Is LA a feature of COVID-19 pathology?" In this review, we critically appraise the literature to help answer this question. We conclude that LA positivity is a feature of COVID-19, at least in some patients, and potentially those who are the sickest or have the most severe infection. However, many publications have failed to appropriately consider the many confounders to LA identification, being assessed using clot-based assays such as the dilute Russell viper venom time, the activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT), and the silica clotting time. First, most patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are placed on anticoagulant therapy, and those with prior histories of thrombosis would possibly present to hospital already on anticoagulant therapy. All anticoagulants, including vitamin K antagonists, heparin (both unfractionated heparin and low-molecular-weight heparin), and direct oral anticoagulants affect these clot-based assays. Second, C-reactive protein (CRP) is highly elevated in COVID-19 patients, and also associated with severity. CRP can also lead to false-positive LA, particularly with the aPTT assay. Third, persistence of aPL positivity (including LA) is required to identify APS. Fourth, those at greatest risk of thrombosis due to aPL are those with highest titers or multiple positivity. Most publications either did not identify anticoagulation and/or CRP in their COVID-19 cohorts or did not seem to account for these as possible confounders for LA detection. Most publications did not assess for aPL persistence, and where persistence was checked, LA appeared to represent transient aPL. Finally, high titer aPL or multiple aPL positivity were in the minority of COVID-19 presentations. Thus, at least some of the reported LAs associated with COVID-19 are likely to be false positives, and the relationship between the detected aPL/LA and COVID-19-associated coagulopathy remains to be resolved using larger and better studies.