Venous thromboembolism is a common, life-threatening complication in neurosurgery, but prophylaxis with anticoagulant agents has not gained wide acceptance because of concern about intracranial bleeding. We performed a meta-analysis of controlled randomized trials on the efficacy and safety of heparin in the prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism in neurosurgery.
To review the clinical benefit of prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism with heparin in the controversial setting of neurosurgery.
Relevant trials evaluating heparin for prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism in neurosurgery were identified by a MEDLINE search, scan of meeting abstracts, and scrutiny of the references of original articles and reviews. Four controlled randomized studies, 3 of which involved low-molecular-weight heparin, were included in the analysis, and 4 uncontrolled studies are commented on in the article. The outcome measure (observed minus expected number of events) and its variance were calculated for each single trial and then summed. Two-tailed P values and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. Efficacy was assessed per protocol and safety by intention-to-treat analysis. The homogeneity of the studies was tested with the χ2 statistic. The results were also expressed as number needed for 1 extra event.
A total of 187 thromboembolic events were recorded in 827 patients (22.6%). Heparin prophylaxis resulted in a 45% relative risk reduction of venous thromboembolic events (odds ratio [OR], 0.48; 95% CI, 0.35-0.66; P<.001). Nineteen major bleedings were recorded in 1022 patients. None were fatal. Heparin treatment resulted in a 71% relative risk increase of major bleeding (OR, 1.72; 95% CI, 0.69-4.27; P = .24). The number needed to treat was 7.7 for venous thromboembolism and 16 for proximal deep vein thrombosis. The number needed to harm was 102 (115 for low-molecular-weight heparin).
Low-molecular-weight and unfractionated heparin have been shown to be effective for prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism in elective neurosurgery without excessive bleeding risk.