Early postoperative anticoagulation after mechanical valve replacement: a systematic review

Ann Thorac Surg. 2006 Feb;81(2):770-81. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2005.07.023.


The optimal approach to early postoperative anticoagulation after mechanical valve implantation remains controversial. This review article examines the pathogenesis of thrombus formation and the different strategies for early postoperative anticoagulation. The most commonly reported anticoagulation regimens had the after estimates of early postoperative thromboembolism and hemorrhage: oral anticoagulation alone (0.9%, 3.3%); oral anticoagulation with intravenous unfractionated heparin (1.1%, 7.2%); and oral anticoagulation with low molecular weight heparin (0.6%, 4.8%). Although intravenous heparin may be associated with a higher incidence of hemorrhage, a randomized trial is needed to provide the best evidence regarding early postoperative anticoagulation after mechanical valve implantation. Nearly four decades have passed since the first mechanical prosthetic valves were implanted. Frequent thromboembolic complications with the first mechanical valves led to recommendations of universal anticoagulation for these patients. Since then, several design changes and modifications have been made to improve the longevity, hemodynamics, and thrombogenicity of newer generation mechanical valves. With improved blood flow, less stasis, and less thrombogenic materials, lower rates of thromboembolism have been reported. Despite these advances however, thromboembolism and anticoagulant-related bleeding continue to account for 75% of all complications after mechanical valve replacement. Occurring most commonly within six months after implantation, these complications can adversely affect mortality and quality of life. Furthermore, the threat of their occurrence creates a psychological burden for each patient with a mechanical valve. The need for life-long anticoagulation in patients with mechanical valves is not in dispute, and the perioperative management of anticoagulation during non-cardiac surgery has been reviewed extensively. However, the approach to early postoperative anticoagulation after mechanical valve implantation is still a matter of debate. The optimal intensity and timing of anticoagulation to prevent early thromboembolism after valve replacement surgery without postoperative bleeding complications is unknown. Hence, many anticoagulation protocols have been proposed, but a lack of consensus remains. The objectives of this study were (1) to reexamine the pathogenesis of thrombus formation and the need for anticoagulation; (2) to critically review the literature on early postoperative anticoagulation strategies; and (3) provide an estimate of the incidence of bleeding and thromboembolism for each approach to early postoperative anticoagulation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anticoagulants / administration & dosage
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Heart Valve Prosthesis Implantation*
  • Hemorrhage / chemically induced
  • Heparin / administration & dosage
  • Heparin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Postoperative Care
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Thromboembolism / physiopathology
  • Thromboembolism / prevention & control*
  • Warfarin / administration & dosage
  • Warfarin / therapeutic use


  • Anticoagulants
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors
  • Warfarin
  • Heparin