Safety of perioperative subcutaneous heparin for prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism in patients undergoing craniotomy

Neurosurgery. 1999 Aug;45(2):245-51; discussion 251-2. doi: 10.1097/00006123-199908000-00008.


Objective: To determine whether perioperative subcutaneous heparin is safe to use for patients undergoing craniotomy and to determine the incidence of venous thromboembolism in patients undergoing craniotomy.

Methods: Perioperative prophylaxis with subcutaneous heparin, 5000 U every 12 hours, was begun at induction of anesthesia for craniotomy and continued for 7 days postoperatively or until the patient was ambulating. Entry criteria to the study included patient age over 18 years and no evidence of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) preoperatively as judged by lower limb duplex ultrasound. Patients were excluded if they had duplex evidence of DVT or clinical evidence of pulmonary embolus (PE) preoperatively, had hypersensitivity to heparin or related products, had sustained a penetrating head injury, or refused informed consent. Any patient undergoing craniotomy was eligible, including patients with a ruptured aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation and those with spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage. Patients underwent duplex study 1 week after surgery and 1 month of clinical follow-up. Records were also kept on 68 nonstudy patients who refused consent. All patients were treated with lower limb pneumatic compression devices.

Results: One hundred six patients were treated. No differences were noted between study and nonstudy patients in some individual risk factors for DVT or PE, such as obesity, smoking, paralysis, infection, pregnancy or postpartum state, varicose veins, heart failure, or previous DVT or PE. Significantly more (43 of 106) patients in the study group had a history of risk factors for DVT or PE, particularly malignancy, however, compared with nonstudy patients (20 of 68 patients; chi2, P < 0.01). There were no differences between groups in intraoperative blood loss, transfusion requirements, or postoperative platelet counts. Four clinically significant hemorrhages occurred during surgery in patients receiving heparin. Three resulted from intraoperative aneurysm rupture and one from intraventricular bleeding during resection of an arteriovenous malformation. These events were believed to be related to known complications of these operations, not to heparin. Of the study patients, two developed symptomatic DVT and one developed a nonfatal PE during the 1-month postoperative period. One additional study patient developed DVT below the popliteal veins, which was not treated. Four study patients developed DVT 1 to 2 months after surgery. In nonstudy patients, three developed DVT and two developed PE (one fatal, one nonfatal).

Conclusion: Perioperative heparin may be safe to administer to patients undergoing craniotomy, but a larger study is needed to demonstrate efficacy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anticoagulants / administration & dosage*
  • Anticoagulants / adverse effects
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Craniotomy*
  • Female
  • Heparin / administration & dosage*
  • Heparin / adverse effects
  • Heparin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Intraoperative Care
  • Intraoperative Complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Care
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Preoperative Care
  • Risk Factors
  • Thromboembolism / diagnostic imaging
  • Thromboembolism / epidemiology
  • Thromboembolism / etiology
  • Thromboembolism / prevention & control*
  • Ultrasonography
  • Venous Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Venous Thrombosis / epidemiology
  • Venous Thrombosis / etiology
  • Venous Thrombosis / prevention & control*


  • Anticoagulants
  • Heparin