OBJECTIVE: To examine the use of thrombolytic treatment in acute myocardial infarction when faced with perceived contraindications to treatment and to explore the justification for withholding treatment in such clinical situations. METHODS: Interview survey of all doctors responsible administering thrombolysis to patients with acute myocardial infarction at a teaching hospital in the UK from March to May 1997. RESULTS: 20 doctors were interviewed and asked whether they would give or withhold thrombolysis in a series of 19 clinical situations. These included patients presenting with both an acute myocardial infarction and one of the following associated conditions: a confirmed gastrointestinal haemorrhage, a suspected gastrointestinal haemorrhage, a peptic ulcer, an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a recent cerebrovascular accident, a known intracranial aneurysm, a known intracranial tumour, a recent dental extraction, recent surgery, severe hypertension, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, a history of bleeding diathesis, coma, recent cardiopulmonary resuscitation, pregnancy, menstruation, and a recent central venous puncture. In all but one of the clinical situations (definite current gastrointestinal haemorrhage) there was wide variation in response as to what constitutes a contraindication to thrombolytic treatment. Overall, a substantial proportion of doctors (35%-95%) would withhold treatment on account of any one of these clinical histories. CONCLUSION: Clinicians may be withholding thrombolysis in acute myocardial infarction on account of perceived contraindications for which there is little or no evidence of increased haemorrhagic risk. An effective treatment for acute myocardial infarction is probably being underused.
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