When venous thromboembolism (VTE) includes deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), patients with acute traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) have the highest incidence of VTE among all hospitalized groups, with PE the third most common cause of death. Although low–molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) outperforms low-dose unfractionated heparin (LDUH) in other patient populations, the evidence in SCI remains less robust.
To determine whether the efficacy for LMWH shown in previous SCI surveillance studies (eg, routine Doppler ultrasound) would translate into real-world effectiveness in which only clinically evident VTE is investigated (ie, after symptoms or signs present).
A retrospective cohort study was conducted of 90 patients receiving LMWH dalteparin (5,000 U daily) or LDUH (5,000 U twice daily) for VTE prophylaxis after acute traumatic SCI. The incidence of radiographically confirmed VTE was primarily analyzed, and secondary outcomes included complications of bleeding and heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.
There was no statistically significant association (p = 0.7054) between the incidence of VTE (7.78% overall) and the type of prophylaxis received (LDUH 3/47 vs dalteparin 4/43). There was no significant differences in complications, location of VTE, and incidence of fatal PE. Paraplegia (as opposed to tetraplegia) was the only risk factor identified for VTE.
There continues to be an absence of definitive evidence for dalteparin (or other LMWH) over LDUH as the choice for VTE prophylaxis in patients with SCI. Novel approaches to VTE prophylaxis are urgently required for this population, whose risk of fatal PE has not decreased over the last 25 years.