All posts by TheTraumaPro

Enoxaparin And anti-Xa Levels: Who Cares? Part 2

In my last post, I reviewed a study that looked at monitoring factor anti-Xa for the purpose of just “hitting the number.” Not very convincing. Today, I’ll review one that studied a reasonable outcome, the actual occurrence of VTE in patients.

This was another small, prospective study at a busy Level I trauma center. The outcomes that were analyzed included LOS, transfusion requirement, hematocrit on discharge, and diagnosis of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Only the last two of these make sense, especially for this small study. (205 patients in two 10 month periods).

At this center, all trauma patients are started on enoxaparin, regardless of injury severity. And all patients have sequential compression devices applied unless contraindicated by their injuries. Patients were included if the were administered 3 consecutive enoxaparin doses and had a trough anti-Xa level measured an hour before the fourth dose. If the trough was less than 0.1 IU/ml, dosing was adjusted until it rose to > 0.2 IU/ml. Outcomes were compared to historical controls from the prior year.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 87 study patients were enrolled in 10 months.  However, this represents only about 15% of trauma admissions to the center. Why were so few eligible for inclusion?
  • 84% of study patients did not “hit the number” with 30mg bid dosing (again!)
  • They were compared to 118 control patients who received enoxaparin during the same 10 month period, a year earlier
  • Screening by duplex ultrasound was only done for “clinical suspicion” of DVT or PE. No routine screening. And we know how reliable clinical suspicion can be.
  • 84% of patients were not at their anti-Xa goal when the first trough was done. Most of these patients needed 40mg bid to “hit the number.”
  • DVT and PE occurrences were “significantly lower” in the dose adjusted group compared to historical controls (1.1% vs 7.6%). Now this is a difference between only 1 adjusted patient and 9 controls, and the p value barely made it at 0.046.
  • Proximal DVT occurred  in no adjusted patients vs 2 controls (not significant)
  • PE occurred in no adjusted patients and 1 control (not significant)
  • Distal DVT occurred in 1 adjusted patient and 6 controls (not significant

Bottom line: This is yet another (very) small study. It also demonstrates why you must read the study, not just the abstract! The study group was a fraction of all of the patient admitted, even though all patients supposedly received prophylaxis. The attending physicians decided when to start dosing, and this varied from 0 to 4 days. Screening was ordered only if there was some kind of clinical suspicion for DVT or PE, and the details were not spelled out. 

For all these reasons, there are many, many opportunities for bias. But probably the most important problem is the statistics. I always worry when the p value for a numerical difference barely reaches 0.05, especially when the actual numbers look to be far apart. It is usually an indicator of small study size.

But in this case, the breakdown of VTE location is critical. The sums of the distal, proximal, and pulmonary occurrences show a p value difference just under 0.05. But when you compare study vs control for each, the bulk of the numbers are due to distal DVT.  The literature does not convincingly support prophylaxis for distal DVT, and we do not even treat it at my center. We continue surveillance to make sure it doesn’t creep up into the popliteal arteries.

This is yet another weak study trying to make the case for anti-Xa monitoring that doesn’t pass muster. Again, we see that 30mg bid doesn’t “hit the number” without adjustment. But we also haven’t shown that hitting that magic number of 0.2 IU/ml (peak or trough) by adjusting the dose makes a difference either.

But we continue to try. In my next post, we’ll look at another recently published study on the same topic.

Related posts:

Reference: Association between enoxaparin dosage adjusted by anti-factor Xa trough level and clinically evident venous thromboembolism after trauma. Jama Surg. Published online ahead of print July 6, 2016.

Enoxaparin And anti-Xa Levels: Who Cares? Part 1

Several papers have been published in recent years analyzing the process of fine-tuning venous thromboembolism (VTE) prophylaxis with enoxaparin. My own hospital has (or had) a protocol in place to automatically draw anti-Xa levels after the third enoxaparin dose in select patients. What is the science behind this concept? It looks like that’s a popular question these days.

Enoxaparin interacts with antithrombin III, turning off a number of factors further down in the clotting cascade. As part of the process, it inactivates Factor Xa, which is easily measurable by a simple blood test. This is very helpful, since PT and PTT are not affected by enoxaparin.

The paper I will discuss today postulated that many patients are “sub-therapeutic” given the usual dosing regimen of 30mg bid. They primarily focused on “hitting the number”, meaning achieving an anti-Xa level > 0.2 IU/ml.

Patients at a single Level I trauma center were enrolled, receiving standard dose enoxaparin and undergoing duplex screening within 48 hours of admission, and again during the first week in hospital. Anti-Xa levels were drawn four hours after the third dose (peak level) and one hour before the fourth dose (trough level).

Here are the factoids:

  • Of 164 patients enrolled, only 61 patients remained in the study. A total of 103 (63%) were excluded because blood draws or screening studies were not done correctly. (!!)
  • 70% of patients had sub-therapeutic enoxaparin dosing based on anti-Xa peak levels
  • The subtherapeutic patients tended to be males, with “higher body weight.” The reality was that the therapeutic patients weighed 71kg and the non-therapeutic men 88kg. But BMI was only 25 and 29, respectively, and was not significantly different.
  • There were 3 VTEs detected during the study, all receiving the initial 30mg dose of enoxaparin. Two of the three had therapeutic anti-Xa levels.
  • No bleeding complications were observed in patients who had their enoxaparin dose adjusted upward

Bottom line: It’s really hard to take anything away from this study at all! Well, we can certainly see that the research group had a tough time adhering to their own protocol, losing two thirds of their study group. This throws the accuracy of the data on the remaining subjects into doubt given the very low numbers.

It would appear that many patients did not achieve their magic number of 0.2 IU/ml for anti-Xa when receiving the standard enoxaparin dose. So what? VTE occurred essentially equally in both groups, but really can’t be interpreted either due to the low numbers.

So basically, this paper is just telling us how many of their patients don’t hit the magic number. Not if that number has any implications on real outcomes, like DVT, PE, or mortality. But if you only read the title or abstract, you might think so!

Tomorrow, I’ll review a paper on anti-Xa that takes a different approach. Just about as successfully.

Related posts:

Reference: Dose adjusting enoxaparin is necessary to achieve adequate venous thromboembolism prophylaxis in trauma patients. J Trauma 745(1):128-135, 2013.

The Lowly Blood Pressure Cuff: Is It Accurate?

Yesterday, I described how the typical automated oscillometric blood pressure cuff works. We rely on this workhorse piece of equipment for nearly all pressure determinations outside of the intensive care unit. So the obvious question is, “is it accurate?”

Interestingly, there are not very many good papers that have ever looked at this! However, this simple question was addressed by a group at Harvard back in 2013. This study utilized an extensive ICU database from 7 ICUs at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Seven years of data were analyzed, including minute by minute blood pressure readings in patients with both automated cuffs and indwelling arterial lines. Arterial line pressures were considered to be the “gold standard.”

Here are the factoids:

  • Over 27,000 pairs of simultaneously recorded cuff and arterial line measurements from 852 patients were analyzed
  • The cuff underestimated art line SBP for pressures at or above 95 torr
  • The cuff overestimated SBO for pressures below 95 torr (!)
  • Patients in profound shock (SBP < 60) had a cuff reading 10 torr higher
  • Mean arterial pressure was reasonably accurate in hypotensive patients


Bottom line: The good, old-fashioned automated blood pressure cuff is fine for patients with normal pressures or better. In fact, it tends to understimate the SBP the higher it is, which is fine. However, it overestimates the SBP in hypotensive patients. This can be dangerous! 

You may look at that SBP of 90 and say to yourself, “that’s not too bad.” But really it might be 80. Would that change your mind? Don’t get suckered into thinking that this mainstay of medical care is perfect! And consider peeking at the mean arterial pressure from time to time. That may give you a more accurate picture of where the patient really is from a pressure standpoint.

Related posts:

Reference: Methods of blood pressure measurement in the ICU. Crit Care Med Journal, 41(1): 34-40, 2013.


How Does It Work? The Lowly Blood Pressure Cuff

The blood pressure cuff is one of those devices trauma professionals don’t give a second thought to. Old timers like me remember using the cuff with a sphygmomanometer and stethoscope to get manual blood pressures. I’ve had to do this twice in recent months on airplanes, and I had forgotten how much work this is.

But technology makes things easier for us. Now you just slap a cuff on the arm (or wrist), push a button, and voila! You’ve got the pressure.

But have you stopped to think about how this actually works? Why don’t we need the stethoscope any more? Here’s the scoop:

When you take a manual blood pressure, the cuff is inflated until a pulse can no longer be auscultated with the stethoscope. The pressure is slowly released using a little thumb wheel while listening for the pulse again. The pressure at which it is first audible is the systolic, and the pressure at which it softens and fades away is the diastolic.

The automatic blood pressure device consists of a cuff, tubing that connects it to the monitor, a pressure transducer in line with the tubing, a mini air pump, and a small computer. The transducer replaces the analog pressure gauge, and the pump and computer replace the human.

The transducer can “see” through the tubing and into the cuff. It is very sensitive to pressure and pressure changes. The computer directs the pump to inflate to about 20 torr above the point where pulsations in the air column cease. It then releases the pressure at about 4 torr per second, “feeling” for air column vibrations to start. When this occurs, the systolic pressure is recorded. Deflation continues until the vibrations stop, representing the diastolic pressure.


Piece of cake! But here’s the question: is it accurate? Tomorrow, I’ll write about how the automated cuff compares to an indwelling arterial line.

Related post:

How Many Salt Tabs In A Liter Of Saline?

Seems like a simple, silly question, right? I dare you to figure it out without reading this post!


On occasion, our brain injured trauma patients have sodium issues. You know, cerebral salt wasting. Trying to maintain or regain the normal range, without making any sudden moves can be challenging. There are a lot of tools available to the trauma professional, including:

  • Saline
  • Hypertonic saline
  • Salt tablets
  • Fluid restriction
  • Some combination thereof

Fun times are had trying to figure out how much extra sodium we are giving with any of the first three items. This is important as you begin to transition from the big guns (hypertonic), to regular saline, and then to oral salt tabs.

Below is a quick and dirty conversion list. I won’t make your heads explode by trying to explain the math involved changing between meq, mg, moles, sodium and sodium chloride.

  • The “normal saline” bags we use are actually 0.9% saline (9 gm NaCl per liter)
  • Hypertonic saline can be 3% or 5% (30 gm or 50 gm per liter)
  • Salt tabs are usually 1 gm each (and oh so yummy)

Therefore, a liter of 0.9% normal saline is the same as 9 salt tabs.

A liter of 3% hypertonic saline is the same as 30 salt tabs. The usual 500cc bag contains 15.

A liter of  5% hypertonic saline is the same as 50 salt tabs. The usual 500cc bag contains 30.

To figure out how many tablets you need to give to match their IV input, calculate the number of liters infused, then do the math! And have fun!