Purpose of review: Venous thromboembolism is a multifactorial silent disease and tends not to be suspected by physicians, especially in medical patients. Pulmonary embolism is the most preventable cause of death among hospitalized patients. It is of major importance to assess the risk for venous thromboembolism and to adapt the prophylactic strategy with the aim of improving the risk-benefit ratio of the prophylaxis.
Recent findings: Prophylaxis of venous thromboembolism can be done by either mechanical means or pharmacologic agents or both. The Medenox trial, the Prime study, the Prince study, the Prevent study, and the Artemis trial demonstrated that acutely ill medical patients are at increased risk of venous thromboembolism and that low molecular weight heparins (enoxaparin 40 mg or dalteparin 5000 IU subcutaneously once daily for 10 days) as well as fondaparinux 2,5 mg subcutaneously once daily for 10 days have a favorable risk-benefit ratio in the prevention of venous thromboembolism in acutely ill medical patients. The publication of the results of the Exclaim study is expected to clarify the optimal duration of prophylaxis in this group of patients. Patients hospitalized in medical intensive care units as well as patients with active cancer or central venous catheters are at increased risk of venous thromboembolism, and the studies published so far demonstrate the favorable risk-benefit ratio of thromboprophylaxis with either low molecular weight heparins or low-dose warfarin.
Summary: Acutely ill medical patients are at increased risk of venous thromboembolism. Prophylaxis with low molecular weight heparins and fondaparinux is effective and safe. Initiatives to improve venous thromboembolism prophylaxis should be based on the education of physicians regarding the individualized risk assessment.