Background: Pregnancy in a woman with a mechanical heart valve is a life-threatening situation. Due to the inability of unfractionated heparin to prevent valvular thromboses, warfarin or other vitamin K antagonists have been the preferred anticoagulants for the mother. They are, however, potentially harmful to the fetus. With the advent of low-molecular-weight heparins, clinicians were hopeful for an alternative that was safe for the fetus, but more effective than unfractionated heparin, which carries a 29-33% risk of life-threatening thromboses and a 7-15% chance of mortality. Unfortunately, fatal thromboses have occurred with low-molecular-weight heparin as well.
Methods: We searched the MEDLINE database and other sources to identify cases of the use of low-molecular-weight heparin for thromboprophylaxis in women with mechanical heart valves.
Results: We found 73 cases and added three of our own for a total of 76. There were 17 thrombotic events (22%). Thirteen were valve thromboses, two were strokes, and two were myocardial infarctions. There were three deaths (4%).
Conclusions: While pregnant women with mechanical heart valves who receive low-molecular-weight heparin for thromboprophylaxis are at extremely high risk of life-threatening thromboses, there is no evidence that low-molecular-weight heparin is inferior to unfractionated heparin.