Prevention of venous thromboembolism in the hospitalized medical patient

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Hospitalized acutely ill medical patients are at high risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE), and clinical trials clearly demonstrate that pharmacologic prophylaxis of VTE for up to 14 days significantly reduces the incidence of VTE in this population. Guidelines recommend use of low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) or unfractionated heparin (5,000 U three times daily) for VTE prophylaxis in hospitalized medical patients with risk factors for VTE; in patients with contraindications to anticoagulants, mechanical prophylaxis is recommended. All hospitalized medical patients should be assessed for their risk of VTE at admission and daily thereafter, and those with reduced mobility and one or more other VTE risk factors are candidates for aggressive VTE prophylaxis. Based on results from the recently reported EXCLAIM trial, extended postdischarge prophylaxis with LMWH for 28 days should be considered for hospitalized medical patients with reduced mobility who are older than age 75 or have a cancer diagnosis or a history of VTE.



The need for prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in hospitalized acutely ill medical patients is well established. Without prophylaxis, hospitalized medical patients develop VTE at a rate of 5% to 15%.1–3 Moreover, pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs more frequently in hospitalized medical patients than in nonmedical patients, and is a leading cause of sudden death in hospitalized medical patients.4,5 Without appropriate prophylaxis, 1 in 20 hospitalized medical patients may suffer a fatal PE.4


Despite these risks and the clear indications for VTE prophylaxis in hospitalized medical patients, prophylaxis of VTE is omitted more often in these patients than in hospitalized surgical patients.5 Even when prophylaxis is given, it is often used inappropriately in the medical population. So concludes a recent analysis of data from 196,104 patients with acute medical conditions who were discharged from 227 US hospitals from January 2002 to September 2005.6 Criteria for inclusion in the analysis were patient age of 40 years or older, a hospital stay of 6 days or greater, and an absence of contraindications to anticoagulation. Appropriate prophylaxis was defined in accordance with the Sixth American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) Consensus Conference on Antithrombotic Therapy.7

The analysis revealed an overall VTE prophylaxis rate of 61.8%, but the rate of appropriate prophylaxis was only 33.9%, meaning that two-thirds of discharged patients did not receive prophylaxis in accordance with ACCP guidelines. When temporal trends were analyzed according to groups based on patients’ diagnosis at admission (acute myocardial infarction, severe lung disease, ischemic stroke, cancer, heart failure, or trauma), the rate of appropriate prophylaxis remained essentially flat from the beginning to the end of the study period for virtually all diagnosis groups.6

Similar findings have emerged from the International Medical Prevention Registry on Venous Thromboembolism (IMPROVE), an ongoing international registry of acutely ill medical patients.8 Data from the first 15,156 patients, enrolled from July 2002 through September 2006, reveal that 50% of patients received pharmacologic and/or mechanical VTE prophylaxis in the hospital, and only 60% of patients who met established criteria for VTE prophylaxis actually received it.

Analysis of the US portion of the IMPROVE data shows that 54% of the US patient sample received some form of VTE prophylaxis; 22% of US patients received intermittent pneumatic compression, 21% received unfractionated heparin (UFH), 14% received low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH), and 3% wore compression stockings.8 Thus, despite a paucity of data supporting a benefit of intermittent pneumatic compression in this population,9 it was the most frequently used form of prophylaxis in US patients.


Reprinted, with permission, from New England Journal of Medicine (Francis CW. Prophylaxis for thromboembolism in hospitalized medical patients. N Engl J Med 2007; 356:1438–1444.). Copyright © 2007 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.
Figure 1. Rates of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in three large double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of pharmacologic prophylaxis of VTE in high-risk hospitalized medical patients.
The evidence in support of pharmacologic prophylaxis of VTE in high-risk hospitalized medical patients is considerable. Three large double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of anticoagulants currently available in the United States have been reported in this patient population (Figure 1).1–3

The Prophylaxis in Medical Patients with Enoxaparin (MEDENOX) trial1 randomized 1,102 hospitalized patients to one of two doses of the LMWH enoxaparin (20 mg or 40 mg once daily subcutaneously) or placebo for 6 to 14 days. Compared with placebo, the 40-mg dose of enoxaparin was associated with a 63% reduction in risk of VTE over 3 months of follow-up (P < .001) (Figure 1).

The Prospective Evaluation of Dalteparin Efficacy for Prevention of VTE in Immobilized Patients Trial (PREVENT)2 was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind study comparing the LMWH dalteparin (5,000 IU daily given subcutaneously for 14 days) with placebo in 3,706 acutely ill medical patients. Over 90 days of follow-up, the risk of VTE was reduced by 44% in patients assigned to dalteparin compared with those assigned to placebo (P = .0015) (Figure 1).

The Arixtra for Thromboembolism Prevention in a Medical Indications Study (ARTEMIS)3 randomized 849 medical patients 60 years or older to 6 to 14 days of therapy with the selective factor Xa inhibitor fondaparinux (2.5 mg once daily subcutaneously) or placebo. Compared with the placebo group, fondaparinux recipients had a 47% lower risk of developing VTE by day 15 (P = .029) (Figure 1).

Fewer events and fatal PEs, but no effect on all-cause mortality

A recent meta-analysis by Dentali et al10 further demonstrates the efficacy of anticoagulant therapy for preventing symptomatic VTE in hospitalized medical patients. This analysis included several other trials in addition to the three reviewed above,1–3 for a total of nine randomized studies (seven of which were dou-ble-blind) comprising 19,958 patients. Across the nine studies, anticoagulant prophylaxis was clearly superior to placebo in preventing fatal PE (relative risk, 0.38 [95% CI, 0.21 to 0.69]). There was a strong trend toward a reduction in symptomatic deep vein thrombosis (DVT) with prophylaxis but no effect on all-cause mortality. The meta-analysis also provided reassurance that prophylaxis does not increase the rate of major bleeding.


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Prevention of venous thromboembolism in the cancer surgery patient

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