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Venous Thromboembolism Prophylaxis in Patients Undergoing Cranial Neurosurgery: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Hamilton, Mark G MDCM, FRCSC*; Yee, Wendy H MD, FRCPC†; Hull, Russell D MB, BS, MSc, FCCP‡; Ghali, William A MD, MPH, FRCPC§

doi: 10.1227/NEU.0b013e3182093145
Review: Editor's Choice

BACKGROUND: Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) have usually supported using heparin prophylaxis against venous thromboembolism (VTE) in patients undergoing cranial neurosurgery. The tradeoff between benefit and bleeding risk, however, has not been adequately characterized.

OBJECTIVE: To conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis assessing the extent to which low-dose unfractionated heparin (LDUH) or low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) prophylaxis reduces the rate of VTE and increases the rate of intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) and other bleeding in patients undergoing elective cranial neurosurgery.

METHODS: We selected RCTs that evaluated LDUH or LMWH prophylaxis of VTE in patients undergoing elective cranial neurosurgery. A meta-analysis assessing heparins vs no heparin (either with or without mechanical methods) was performed.

RESULTS: Eight RCTs were identified. Six RCTs involving 1170 patients evaluated LDUH or LMWH vs a control group. Five of 6 trials found a significant reduction in the risk of symptomatic and asymptomatic VTE with heparin prophylaxis. The pooled risk ratio was 0.58 (95% confidence interval, 0.45-0.75). ICH was more common in those receiving heparin, but not statistically significantly. For every 1000 patients who receive heparin prophylaxis, 91 VTE events will be prevented (approximately 35 of which are proximal deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism and 9 to 18 of which are symptomatic), whereas 7 ICHs and 28 more minor bleeds will occur.

CONCLUSION: Heparin prophylaxis for patients undergoing elective cranial neurosurgery reduces the risk of VTE but may also increase bleeding risks with a ratio of serious or symptomatic VTE relative to serious bleeding that is only slightly favorable.

Author Information

Departments of *Clinical Neurosciences, †Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, ‡Medicine, and §Medicine and Community Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Received, March 5, 2010.

Accepted, November 1, 2010.

Correspondence: Mark G. Hamilton, MDCM, FRCSC, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Calgary, Foothills Hospital, 12th Floor, 1403 - 29th Street NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 2T9, Canada. E-mail:

Copyright © by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons