JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Vitamin K antagonists or low-molecular-weight heparin for the long term treatment of symptomatic venous thromboembolism

van Der Heijden JF, B A Hutten, H R Büller, M H Prins
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2000, (4): CD002001
11034739

BACKGROUND: Patients who have had an episode of symptomatic venous thromboembolism are usually treated for at least five days with intravenous unfractionated heparin or subcutaneous low-molecular-weight heparin. Thereafter, they received a three month course of a vitamin K antagonist, with a dose adjusted to achieve an International Normalized Ratio between 2.0 and 3.0. Some patients have contraindications to vitamin K antagonists. In addition, treatment with vitamin K antagonists has the disadvantage of regular laboratory measurements.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to evaluate the efficacy and safety of long-term treatment of symptomatic venous thromboembolism with low-molecular-weight heparins compared with vitamin K antagonists.

SEARCH STRATEGY: Computerized searches of MEDLINE, EMBASE and Current Contents were made and relevant journals were hand-searched using the search strategy described by the Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Disease Group. In addition, randomized clinical trials were located through personal communication with colleagues. Where necessary, the reviewers contacted pharmaceutical companies for further information.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Two reviewers evaluated studies independently for methodological quality.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers reviewed and extracted data independently using a standard form. Primary analysis concerned all patients in the studies during the period of randomized treatment. Additional separate analyses were performed for category I and category II studies; studies that used similar initial treatments in both study arms and those that used different treatment regimes during the initial treatment; and the total period of follow-up in the different studies.

MAIN RESULTS: Five studies were identified that fulfilled our predefined criteria (three category I and two category II studies). When all five studies were combined, a statistically non-significant reduction of the risk of recurrent symptomatic venous thromboembolism in favor of low-molecular-weight heparin treatment (OR 0.72; 95% CI [0.42, 1.23]) was found. In category I studies, analysis of the pooled data showed a statistically non-significant reduction of the risk of recurrent symptomatic venous thromboembolism in favor of low-molecular-weight heparin treatment (OR 0.75; 95% CI [0.40, 1.39]). This OR was mainly due to one possibly confounded study, and after omitting this study from the analysis a statistically non-significant reduction of the risk of recurrent symptomatic venous thromboembolism in favor of vitamin K antagonist treatment remained (OR 1.95; 95% CI [0.74, 5.19]). No differences in the risk of bleeding (OR 0.63; 95% CI [0.21, 1.88]) and mortality (OR 1.13; 95% CI [0.47, 2.69] were observed.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Low-molecular-weight heparins are possibly as effective and safe as vitamin K antagonists in the prevention of recurrent symptomatic venous thromboembolism after an episode of symptomatic deep venous thrombosis, but have the disadvantage of much higher medicinal costs. Treatment with low-molecular-weight heparin is possibly a safe alternative in some patients; for example patients who live in geographically inaccessible places; patients who are reluctant to go to the thrombosis service on a regular basis; and patients with contraindications to vitamin K antagonists (e.g. pregnant women). Therefore, in the absence of definitive evidence on the safety and efficacy of low-molecular-weight heparins compared with vitamin K antagonists, we believe that treatment with vitamin K antagonists is still the treatment of choice in the prevention of recurrent symptomatic venous thromboembolism after an episode of deep venous thrombosis, in the majority of patients.

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