Assessing, preventing, and treating venous thromboembolism: evidence-based approaches

Edith A Nutescu
American Journal of Health-system Pharmacy: AJHP 2007 June 1, 64 (11 Suppl 7): S5-13

PURPOSE: The long-term complications of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), assessment of risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE) in medical and surgical patients, recommendations in evidence-based guidelines for VTE prophylaxis in surgical and medical patients and the treatment of VTE, and a new alternative for VTE prophylaxis and treatment are discussed.

SUMMARY: Pulmonary embolism (PE) is an acute complication of DVT, and recurrent DVT, post-thrombotic syndrome, and death are long-term complications of DVT. The need to assess VTE risk and provide VTE prophylaxis are well recognized in surgical patients. However, VTE prophylaxis is underutilized in medical patients despite the fact that DVT is common and guidelines for prophylaxis are available, partly because the condition often is asymptomatic in these patients. The risk for VTE increases as the number of risk factors increases, so the aggressiveness of VTE prophylaxis in medical and surgical patients increases as the risk of VTE increases. The most recent American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) guidelines recommend low-dose unfractionated heparin or low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) for VTE prophylaxis in acutely ill medical patients. The treatment of VTE recommended by ACCP involves short-term LMWH or unfractionated heparin therapy plus long-term oral warfarin therapy. The pentasaccharide, factor Xa inhibitor, fondaparinux is a new alternative for VTE prophylaxis and treatment. Reducing LMWH doses for patients with severe renal impairment may offer a safety advantage. Fixed doses of LMWH are customarily used for VTE prophylaxis regardless of body weight or body mass index, but weight-based dosing with larger doses for obese patients may be more effective than fixed doses.

CONCLUSION: Efforts to assess VTE risk and apply evidence-based guidelines for VTE prophylaxis and treatment in medical patients as well as surgical patients can improve patient care and outcomes. Findings from recent clinical research provide clinicians with clarification about the optimal prophylactic and treatment strategies, and future guidelines will reflect these findings.

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