Tag Archives: VTE

Should I Apply Compression Devices To Patients With DVT?

Everyone knows that venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a potential problem in hospitalized patients, and especially so in trauma patients. Several groups of them are at higher risk by virtue of the particular injuries they have sustained and the activity restriction caused.

Nearly every trauma program uses some form of screening and prophylaxis in an attempt to reduce the occurrence of this problem, which can result in deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and/or pulmonary embolism (PE). Screening looks at patient factors such as age, obesity, previous VTE as well as injury risk factors like spine and pelvic fractures, and decreased mobility.

Based on the screening protocol, prophylaxis may be prescribed depending upon level of VTE risk, which is then balanced with bleeding risk from brain, solid organ, or other injuries. The choices we have are primarily mechanical vs chemical and consist of compression devices (sequential or not) and various heparins.

An age old question surfaced on my own patient rounds recently. If a patient breaks through their prophylaxis and develops DVT, is it safe to apply compression devices to the extremity?

There has always been the fear that doing things that increase flow in the affected extremity may cause clots to dislodge and ultimately cause a PE. Seems logical right? But we know that often, our common sense about things is completely wrong.  Couldn’t just moving around cause pieces to break off? A meta-analysis of 13 studies published in 2015 showed that early ambulation was not associated with a higher incidence of new PE. Furthermore, patients who suffered from pain in the affected extremity noted significant improvements with early ambulation.

If ambulation makes the pain better, could the veins be recanalizing more quickly? Another study examined a small group of 72 people with DVT receiving anticoagulants, half of whom were prescribed exercise and compression stockings and the other half stockings only. There was a huge amount of variability in the rates of recanalization, but ultimately there were no significant differences with or without exercise.

So just lying in bed is not good, and exercise/ambulation may actually make people feel better. But interestingly, bedrest alone does not appear to increase the likelihood of PE! It does decrease the risk of developing problems other than the VTE, like pulmonary complications.

But what about compression devices? Common sense would say that you are intermittently  increasing pressures in the leg veins, which could dislodge any loose clots and send them flying to the lungs, right?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a paper from anyone who had the courage to try this. Or perhaps no institutional review board (IRB) would approve it. But the key fact is that every compression device manufacturer includes existing DVT as a contraindication in their product documentation. They don’t have any literature either, so I assume it’s an attempt to limit litigation, just in case.

Bottom line: Walking provides at least as much muscle compression as compression devices. But the simple truth is that we have no solid research that either supports or condemns the use of active compression devices in patients with known DVT. And we probably won’t, ever.

Compression stockings seem to be safe, but they really don’t do much. They are white, but don’t do much more than contribute to hospital clothing fashion. Since the manufacturers define existing DVT as a contraindication, application of their product would be considered an off-label use. So it looks like we cannot in good faith use these devices in patients with diagnosed DVT.


  • Bed Rest versus Early Ambulation with Standard Anticoagulation in The Management of Deep Vein Thrombosis: A Meta-Analysis. PLOS One , April 10, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0121388
  • Bed Rest or Ambulation in the Initial Treatment of Patients With Acute Deep Vein Thrombosis or Pulmonary Embolism: Findings From the RIETE Registry. Chest 127(5):1631-1636, 2005.
  • Does supervised exercise after deep venous thrombosis improve recanalization of occluded vein segments? A randomized study. J Thrombosis Thrombolysis 23:25-30, 2006.

VTE Prophylaxis After Solid Organ Injury

Venous thromboembolism (VTE)  is a common potential complication after traumatic injury. But typically, injury is associated with bleeding, so the trauma professional has to strike a balance between preventing bleeding and preventing clots.

Solid organ injury (liver and spleen, typically) is a common diagnosis after blunt trauma. Most trauma centers have protocols for VTE prophylaxis which apply to patients with those injuries. Older literature that I wrote about eight years divided the time frames for prophylaxis into early (within 3 days), late (greater than 3 days), and none. The authors of that article found that there was no association with untoward bleeding in the early group. And interestingly, there seemed to be less in that group. Unfortunately, the selection of the groups was biased, and the early VTE prophylaxis group had less severe injuries.

The surgery group at the Massachusetts General Hospital tried to clarify current practice by performing a deep dive into the Trauma Quality Improvement Program database. They searched the database to identify patients with “isolated” liver, spleen, kidney, and pancreas injury. They did this by excluding TBI, femur and pelvic fractures, spinal cord injury, and penetrating trauma. They also excluded patients with other other severe injuries with an abbreviated injury scale score of 3 or more.

The authors stratified patients into three groups: early VTE prophylaxis receiving the drug within 48 hours of arrival, intermediate within 48-72 hours, and late after 72 hours.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 3,223 patients met inclusion criteria
  • Prophylaxis was classified as early in 57%, intermediate in 22%, and late in 21%
  • About 3/4 received low molecular weight heparin and the remainder received unfractionated heparin
  • Late prophylaxis was associated with a 3x increase in both VTE and pulmonary embolism (PE)
  • Intermediate prophylaxis patient had a 2x increase in VTE but no increase in PE
  • Early prophylaxis showed a 2x increase in bleeding complications, especially in those with diabetes (?), spleen, and high-grade liver injury
  • A total of 60 of the 1,832 patients in the early group had bleeding events: 39 failed nonop mangement and were taken to OR, 8 underwent angioembolization, and 21 received blood transfusions

The authors concluded that early prophylaxis should be considered in patients who do not fall out as higher risk (spleen, high-grade liver, diabetics).

Bottom line: This retrospective study is probably as good as it’s going to get from a data quality standpoint. It’s larger than any single-institution series will ever be, although it suffers from the usual things most large database studies do. 

But it does show us strong associations with DVT and PE as the consequences of waiting to start VTE prophylaxis beyond 48 hours. The caveat is to be careful in certain patients, most notably diabetics and those with liver and spleen injuries, as they are at higher risk to develop complications leading to the OR or interventional radiology suite. 

I urge all of you to re-examine your VTE prophylaxis guideline and modify it to start your drug of choice as early as possible given the cautions for patients with spleen and high-grade liver injuries. The diabetes thing, well, that’s a mystery to me and I will wait for further confirmation to break those patients out separately.

If you are interested, you can see the Regions Hospital trauma program VTE guideline by clicking here.


  • Thromboembolic prophylaxis with low-molecular-weight heparin in patients with blunt solid abdominal organ injuries undergoing nonoperative management: current practice and outcomes. J Trauma 70(1): 141-147, 2011.
  • Timing of thromboprophylaxis in patients with blunt abdominal solid organ injuries undergoing nonoperative management. J Trauma pulish ahead of print, October 12, 2020, doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002972

Best Of EAST #9: Is TXA Associated With VTE?

Most trauma programs can be divided into two types: those that believe in tranexamic acid (TXA) and those that don’t. I won’t get into the details of the CRASH-2 study here. But those centers that don’t believe usually give one of two reasons: they don’t think it works or they think the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) is too high.

EAST put together a multi-institutional trial to see if there was an association between TXA administration and subsequent VTE. The results are being reported as one of the paper presentations at the meeting this week. A retrospective study of the experience of 15 trauma centers was organized. A power analysis was preformed in advance, which showed that at least 830 patients were needed to detect a positive result.

Adult patients who received more than 5 units of blood during the first 24 hours were included. There were a lot of exclusionary criteria. They included death within 24 hours, pregnancy, pre-injury use of anticoagulants, interhospital transfer, TXA administration after 3 hours, and asymptomatic patients that had duplex VTE surveillance (huh?). The primary outcome studied was incidence of VTE, and secondary outcomes were MI, stroke, length of stay, and death.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were 1,333 eligible patients identified, and 887 (67%) received TXA
  • Females were significantly (over 2x) more likely to receive TXA (46% vs 19%)
  • 80% of patients given TXA received VTE prophylaxis, whereas only 60% of those who did not receive TXA got prophylaxis (also significant)
  • TXA patients had a statistically significantly higher ISS (27) compared to non-TXA patients (25) but this is not clinically significant
  • Mortality in the TXA group was significantly lower (17% vs 34%)
  • The number of units of blood, plasma, and platelets transfused were significantly lower in the TXA group
  • VTE rate appeared lower in the TXA group, but once multivariate analysis was applied, there was no difference

The group concluded that there was no association between TXA and VTE, but that it was linked to decreased mortality and transfusion need.

My comment: This was a study done the way they are supposed to be! Know your objectives and study outcomes up front. Figure out how many patients are needed to tease out any differences. And use understandable statistics to do so.

But, of course, it’s not perfect. No retrospective study is. Nor is any multi-institutional trial. There are lots of little variations and biases that can creep in. But the larger than required sample size helps with reducing the noise from these issues.

Basically, we have a decent study that shows that the clinical end points that we usually strive for are significantly improved in patients who have TXA administered. We don’t know why, we just know that it’s a pretty good association.

This study shows that the usual reasons given for not using TXA don’t appear to hold true. So hopefully it will convert a few of the TXA non-believers out there. I’m excited to hear more details during the presentation at the meeting.

Reference: Association of TXA with venous thromboembolism in bleeding trauma patients: an EAST multicenter study. EAST Annual Assembly, Paper #13, 2020.

How To Predict Venous Thromboembolism In Pediatric Trauma

As with adults a decade ago, the incidence of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in children is now on the rise. Whereas adult VTE occurs in more than 20% of adult trauma patients without appropriate prophylaxis, it is only about 1% in kids, but increasing. There was a big push in the early 2000′s to develop screening criteria and appropriate methods to prevent VTE. But since the incidence in children was so low, there was no impetus to do the same for children.

The group at OHSU in Portland worked with a number of other US trauma centers, and created some logistic regression equations based on a large dataset from the NTDB. The authors developed and tested 5 different models, each more complex than the last. They ultimately selected a model that provided the best fit with the fewest number of variables.

The tool consists of a list of risk factors, each with an assigned point value. The total point value is then identified on a chart of the regression equation, which shows the risk of VTE in percent.

Here are the factors:

Note that the highest risk factors are age >= 13, ICU admission, and major surgery.

And here is the regression chart:

Bottom line: This is a nice tool, and it’s time for some clinical validation. So now all we have to do is figure out how much risk is too much, and determine which prophylactic tools to use at what level. The key to making this clinically usable is to have a readily available “VTE Risk Calculator” available at your fingertips to do the grunt work. Hmm, maybe I’ll chat with the authors and help develop one!

Reference: A Clinical Tool for the Prediction of Venous Thromboembolism in Pediatric Trauma Patients. JAMA Surg 151(1):50-57, 2016.

VTE Prophylaxis Before Spine Surgery?

Many surgeons and surgical subspecialists are nervous about operating on people who are taking anticoagulants. This seems obvious when it involves patients on therapeutic anticoagulation. But it is much less clear when we are talking about lower prophylactic doses.

Spine surgeons are especially reluctant when they are operating around the spinal cord. Yet patients with spine injury are generally at the highest risk for developing venous thromboembolic (VTE) complications like deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Is this concern warranted?

Surgeons at the Presley Trauma Center in Memphis examined this issue by performing a retrospective review of six years worth of patients who underwent spine stabilization surgery. They specifically looked at administration of any kind of preop prophylactic anticoagulant, and the most feared complications of bleeding complications and postop VTE.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 705 patients were reviewed, with roughly half receiving at least one preop prophylactic dose and the other half receiving none
  • There were 447 C-spine, 231 T-spine, and 132 L-spine operations, performed an average of 4 days after admission
  • Overall, bleeding complications occurred in 2.6% and VTE in 2.8%
  • Patients with VTE were more severely injured (ISS 27 vs 18)
  • Those who received at least half of their possible prophylactic doses had a significantly lower PE rate (0.4% vs 2.2%) but no significant difference in DVT or bleeding complications

Bottom line: So what to make of this? It’s a relatively small, retrospective study, and there is no power analysis. Furthermore, this hospital does not perform routine DVT screening, so that component of VTE may be underestimated, rendering the conclusions invalid.

However, the information on bleeding complications is more interesting, since this is much more reliably diagnosed using an eyeball check under the dressing. So maybe we (meaning our neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons) need to worry less about preop prophylactic VTE drugs. But we still need better research about whether any of this actually makes a dent in VTE and mortality from PE. To be continued.

Reference: Early chemoprophylaxis is associated with decreased venous thromboembolism risk without concomitant increase in intraspinal hematoma expansion after traumatic spinal cord injury. J Trauma 83(6):1108-1113, 2017.