Our objective was to systematically review the incidence of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and the efficacy of thromboprophylaxis in critically ill adults, including patients admitted to intensive care units and following trauma, neurosurgery, or spinal cord injury.
Two authors independently searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, abstract databases, and the Cochrane database. Data were extracted independently in triplicate.
Ten percent to 30% of medical and surgical intensive care unit patients develop DVT within the first week of intensive care unit admission. The use of subcutaneous low-dose heparin reduced the rate by 50% compared with no prophylaxis. Approximately 60% of trauma patients developed DVT within the first 2 weeks of admission. Use of unfractionated heparin appears to decrease the incidence of DVT by only 20%, whereas low-molecular-weight heparin decreases the incidence by a further 30%. The estimated prevalence of DVT in neurosurgical patients not given prophylaxis is 22% to 35%. Mechanical prophylaxis is efficacious, with a pooled odds ratio in 5 randomized trials of 0.28. Use of low-molecular-weight heparin has been investigated as an adjunct to mechanical prophylaxis with a pooled odds ratio of 0.59 compared with graduated compression stockings alone. The incidence of DVT without prophylaxis in acute spinal cord injury patients is likely in excess of 50% to 80%. Studies of prophylaxis in these patients are too sparse to come to any definitive conclusion.
Critically ill patients commonly develop DVT, with rates that vary from 22% to almost 80%, depending on patient characteristics. Methods of prophylaxis proven in one group do not necessarily generalize to other critically ill patient groups. More potent prophylactic regimens other than unfractionated or low-molecular-weight heparins alone may be needed with higher-risk groups.