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Thrombotic Microangiopathy in Malignant Hypertension and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)/Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP): Can We Differentiate One from the Other?


Patients with malignant hypertension sometimes exhibit microangiopathic hemolytic anemia/thrombocytopenia known as thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA). On the other hand, severe hypertension is sometimes associated with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)/thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). Because the clinical features of the two entities overlap significantly, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other. However, such differentiation is indispensable, since early performance of plasmapheresis is critical in HUS/TTP. It has been suggested that severe thrombocytopenia is one of the most useful differential points in diagnosing HUS/TTP from malignant hypertension caused by other etiologies. Early performance of plasmapheresis can be justified in the presence of both TMA and thrombocytopenia. However, thrombocytopenia can be seen in the cases with malignant hypertension from etiologies other than HUS/TTP, and in these particular cases, plasmapheresis is useless and can be harmful. Recently, the plasma level of ADAMTS13 (a disintegrin and metalloprotease domain, with thrombospondin type 1 motif 13), which is a von Willebrand Factor cleaving protease, has been shown to be very low in familial or some of the sporadic cases of TTP, and a low level of ADAMTS13 is very specific to TTP. Some reports have shown that patients with a very low plasma level of ADAMTS13 respond very well to plasmapheresis. We recently experienced two cases with TMA. Although both of our patients had severe hypertension with TMA, different therapeutic strategies ameliorated their illness: symptomatic treatment was effective in case 1, which showed normal ADAMTS13 activity, whereas plasma infusion was necessary to save case 2, which showed low ADAMTS13 activity. Thus, patients with a low level of ADAMTS13 activity might respond well to plasmapheresis or plasma infusion. When presented with patients with severe hypertension and thrombotic microangiopathy, ADAMTS13 activity may prove to be a promising adjunctive tool in differentiating TTP from TMA due to other etiologies, but in the meantime, we should make the choice of whether or not to perform plasmapheresis based on the degree of thrombocytopenia.


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Correspondence to Yugo Shibagaki.

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Shibagaki, Y., Fujita, T. Thrombotic Microangiopathy in Malignant Hypertension and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)/Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP): Can We Differentiate One from the Other?. Hypertens Res 28, 89–95 (2005).

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  • malignant hypertension
  • thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura/hemolytic uremic syndrome
  • thrombotic microangiopathy
  • ADAMTS13 (a disintegrin and metalloprotease domain, with thrombospondin type 1 motif 13)
  • plasmapheresis

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