In order to determine the efficacy and safety of ancrod, a rapid acting defibrinogenating drug, for patients with heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, 11 consecutive patients who required anticoagulant therapy because of venous thromboembolism and who developed acute heparin-induced thrombocytopenia or had a history of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia were treated with ancrod. Heparin therapy was discontinued (in patients receiving heparin) and ancrod started at a dose of 1 to 2 U/kg every 24 hours with subsequent daily doses adjusted to maintain fibrinogen levels between 0.5 and 1.0 g/L. Ancrod was continued until warfarin had become effective. The platelet count increased to more than 150 x 10(9)/L within 2 to 10 days in all thrombocytopenic patients. Two patients with a history of heparin- induced thrombocytopenia maintained normal platelet counts while receiving ancrod. Two patients had recurrent venous thrombosis while receiving warfarin, 10 days after ancrod was discontinued: one of these patients had metastatic pancreatic carcinoma and developed phlegmasia cerulea dolens and the other patient developed a venographically proven extension of her deep venous thrombosis. One patient suffered a bleeding episode into the thigh with a 16-g/L decrease in her hemoglobin level while receiving ancrod therapy. No other side effects were noted. Our experience indicates that ancrod therapy is a reasonable approach for patients with heparin-induced thrombocytopenia who require anticoagulant therapy.