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Partial Thromboplastin Time

Overview :

When a body tissue is injured and begins to bleed, it starts a sequence of clotting factor activities called the coagulation cascade, which leads to the formation of a blood clot. The cascade has three pathways: extrinsic, intrinsic, and common. Many of the thirteen known clotting factors in human blood are shared by both pathways; several are found in only one. The PTT test evaluates the factors found in the intrinsic and common pathways. It is usually done in combination with other tests, such as the prothrombin test, which evaluate the factors of the extrinsic pathway. The combination of tests narrows the list of possible missing or defective factors.

Heparin prevents clotting by blocking certain factors in the intrinsic pathway. The PTT test allows a doctor to check that there is enough heparin in the blood to prevent clotting, but not so much as to cause bleeding. The test is done before the first dose of heparin or whenever the dosage level is changed; and again when the heparin has reached a constant level in the blood. The PTT test is repeated at scheduled intervals.

The PTT test uses blood to which a chemical has been added to prevent clotting before the test begins. About 5 mL of blood are drawn from a vein in the patient's inner elbow region. Collection of the sample takes only a few minutes. The blood is spun in a centrifuge, which separates the pale yellow liquid part of blood (plasma) from the cells. Calcium and activating substances are added to the plasma to start the intrinsic pathway of the coagulation cascade. The partial thromboplastin time is the time it takes for a clot to form, measured in seconds.

The test can be done without activators, but they are usually added to shorten the clotting time, making the test more useful for monitoring heparin levels. When activators are used, the test is called activated partial thromboplastin time or APTT.

Test results can be obtained in less than one hour. The test is usually covered by insurance.

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