Numerous trials and meta-analyses have shown that extended out-of-hospital prophylaxis with low-molecular-weight heparin reduces asymptomatic and symptomatic venous thromboembolism after total hip arthroplasty. We hypothesized that knowledge of the results of screening tests may have resulted in overdiagnosis of symptomatic venous thromboembolism in many of these studies. The purpose of this analysis was to obtain an accurate estimate of the absolute risk reduction (ARR) of symptomatic venous thromboembolism after discharge from hospital in controlled studies that avoided this potential bias for overdiagnosis.
Articles were identified using MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library databases (January 1980–April 2002). Studies were eligible if the assessment of symptomatic venous thromboembolism was standardized and performed independently of mandatory objective testing.
Two studies (907 patients) were eligible for assessment of symptomatic venous thromboembolism, 5 studies (1917 patients) for symptomatic pulmonary embolism, and 7 studies (2425 patients) for fatal pulmonary embolism. In controls vs extended treatment groups, after hospital discharge, the frequency of symptomatic venous thromboembolism was 2.7% vs 1.1% (ARR, 1.56%; 95% confidence interval [CI], −0.21% to 3.3%; number needed to treat, 64); symptomatic pulmonary embolism was 0.36% vs 0% (ARR, 0.36%; 95% CI, −0.3% to 1.36%; number needed to treat, 278); and fatal pulmonary embolism was 0.09% vs 0% (ARR, 0.09%; 95% CI, −0.08% to 0.27%; number needed to treat, 1093).
The absolute reduction in symptomatic venous thromboembolism attributed to extended prophylaxis in some studies and meta-analyses seems to have been overestimated.