UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Venous thromboembolism prophylaxis may cause more harm than benefit: an evidence-based analysis of Canadian and international guidelines Kotaska, Andrew


A majority of deep vein thromboses identified in screening studies of hospitalized patients remain clinically insignificant. Guidelines based on these studies markedly overestimate the risk of clinical venous thromboembolism (VTE) and the benefit of heparin prophylaxis. Accordingly, in 2012, the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) removed screening studies from the 9th edition of its Antithrombotic and Thrombolytic Therapy guideline (AT9), and downgraded recommendations. Involvement of authors of the 8th edition (AT8) was restricted due to financial and intellectual conflicts of interest. However, the first author of AT8 subsequently wrote a “Getting Started Kit,” widely distributed to help Canadian hospitals develop VTE protocols. Based on screening studies reporting asymptomatic VTE, it lacks estimates of the magnitudes of benefit or harm from low molecular weight heparin (LMWH), yet advises prophylaxis in almost all hospitalized patients. Most Canadian hospitals have implemented guidelines based on this kit. Guidelines from the U. K National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommend a similar approach. However, a critical review of evidence reveals that most hospitalized patients have a risk of clinical VTE equal to or lower than the bleeding risk from LMWH. Most hospitalized patients should not receive LMWH until and unless randomized trials show more benefit than harm. Guidelines recommending liberal LMWH prophylaxis in hospitalized patients are not evidence based and should be critically re-examined.

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