One of the most anticipated, but potentially serious complications during or after surgery are bleeding events. Among the many potential factors associated with bleeding complications in surgery, the use of bovine thrombin has been anecdotally identified as a possible cause of increased bleeding risk. Most of these reports of bleeding events in association with the use of topical bovine thrombin have been limited to case reports lacking clear cause and effect relationship determination. Recent studies have failed to establish significant differences in the rates of bleeding events between those treated with bovine thrombin and those treated with either human or recombinant thrombin.
We conducted a search of MEDLINE for the most recent past 10 years (1997–2007) and identified all published studies that reported a study of surgical patients with a clear objective to examine the risk of bleeding events in surgical patients. We also specifically noted the reporting of any topical bovine thrombin used during surgical procedures. We aimed to examine whether there were any differences in the risk of bleeds in general surgical populations as compared to those studies that reported exposure to topical bovine thrombin.
We identified 21 clinical studies that addressed the risk of bleeding in surgery. Of these, 5 studies analyzed the use of bovine thrombin sealants in surgical patients. There were no standardized definitions for bleeding events employed across these studies. The rates of bleeds in the general surgery studies ranged from 0.1%–20.2%, with most studies reporting rates between 2.6%–4%. The rates of bleeding events ranged from 0.0%–13% in the bovine thrombin studies with most studies reporting between a 2%–3% rate.
The risk of bleeds was not clearly different in those studies reporting use of bovine thrombin in all patients compared to the other surgical populations studied. A well-designed and well-controlled study is needed to accurately examine the bleeding risks in surgical patients treated and unexposed to topical bovine thrombin, and to evaluate the independent risk associated with topical bovine thrombin as well as other risk factors.