Cardiac and thoracic surgery are associated with an increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE). The safety and efficacy of primary thromboprophylaxis in patients undergoing these types of surgery is uncertain.
To assess the effects of primary thromboprophylaxis on the incidence of symptomatic VTE and major bleeding in patients undergoing cardiac or thoracic surgery.
The Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Diseases Group Trials Search Co-ordinator searched the Specialised Register (last searched May 2014) and CENTRAL (2014, Issue 4). The authors searched the reference lists of relevant studies, conference proceedings, and clinical trial registries.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs comparing any oral or parenteral anticoagulant or mechanical intervention to no intervention or placebo, or comparing two different anticoagulants.
We extracted data on methodological quality, participant characteristics, interventions, and outcomes including symptomatic VTE and major bleeding as the primary effectiveness and safety outcomes, respectively.
We identified 12 RCTs and one quasi-RCT (6923 participants), six for cardiac surgery (3359 participants) and seven for thoracic surgery (3564 participants). No study evaluated fondaparinux, the new oral direct thrombin, direct factor Xa inhibitors, or caval filters. All studies had major study design flaws and most lacked a placebo or no treatment control group. We typically graded the quality of the overall body of evidence for the various outcomes and comparisons as low, due to imprecise estimates of effect and risk of bias. We could not pool data because of the different comparisons and the lack of data. In cardiac surgery, 71 symptomatic VTEs occurred in 3040 participants from four studies. In a study of 2551 participants, representing 85% of the review population in cardiac surgery, the combination of unfractionated heparin with pneumatic compression stockings was associated with a 61% reduction of symptomatic VTE compared to unfractionated heparin alone (1.5% versus 4.0%; risk ratio (RR) 0.39; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.23 to 0.64). Major bleeding was only reported in one study, which found a higher incidence with vitamin K antagonists compared to platelet inhibitors (11.3% versus 1.6%, RR 7.06; 95% CI 1.64 to 30.40). In thoracic surgery, 15 symptomatic VTEs occurred in 2890 participants from six studies. In the largest study evaluating unfractionated heparin versus an inactive control the rates of symptomatic VTE were 0.7% versus 0%, respectively, giving a RR of 6.71 (95% CI 0.40 to 112.65). There was insufficient evidence to determine if there was a difference in the risk of major bleeding from two studies evaluating fixed-dose versus weight-adjusted low molecular weight heparin (2.7% versus 8.1%, RR 0.33; 95% CI 0.07 to 1.60) and unfractionated heparin versus low molecular weight heparin (6% and 4%, RR 1.50; 95% CI 0.26 to 8.60).
The evidence regarding the efficacy and safety of thromboprophylaxis in cardiac and thoracic surgery is limited. Data for important outcomes such as pulmonary embolism or major bleeding were often lacking. Given the uncertainties around the benefit-to-risk balance, no conclusions can be drawn and a case-by-case risk evaluation of VTE and bleeding remains preferable.