Venous thromboembolism: deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism in a neurosurgical population

J Neurosurg. 2011 Jan;114(1):40-6. doi: 10.3171/2010.8.JNS10332. Epub 2010 Sep 3.


Object: Venous thromboembolism (VTE), a combination of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), is a major cause of morbidity and death in neurosurgical patients. This study evaluates 1) the risk of developing lower-extremity DVT following a neurosurgical procedure; 2) the timing of initiation of pharmacological DVT prophylaxis upon the occurrence of VTE; and 3) the relationship between DVT and PE as related to VTE prophylaxis in neurosurgical patients.

Methods: The records of all neurosurgical patients between January 2006 and December 2008 (2638 total) were reviewed for clinical documentation of VTE. As part of a quality improvement initiative, a subgroup of 1638 patients was studied during the implementation of pharmacological prophylaxis. A high-risk group of 555 neurosurgical patients in the intensive care unit underwent surveillance venous lower-extremity duplex ultrasonography studies twice weekly. All patients throughout the review received mechanical DVT prophylaxis. Pharmacological DVT prophylaxis, consisting of 5000 U of subcutaneous heparin twice daily (initially started within 48 hours of a neurosurgical procedure and subsequently within 24 hours of a procedure) was implemented in combination with mechanical prophylaxis. The DVT and PE rates were calculated for each group.

Results: In the surveillance group (555 patients), 84% of the DVTs occurred within 1 week and 92% within 2 weeks of a neurosurgical procedure. There was a linear correlation between the duration of surgery and DVT development. The use of subcutaneous heparin reduced the rate of DVT from 16% to 9% when medication was given at either 24 or 48 hours postoperatively, without any increase in hemorrhagic complications. In the overall group (2638 patients), there were 94 patients who exhibited clinical signs of a possible PE and therefore underwent spiral CT; 22 of these patients (0.8%) had radiological confirmation of PE. There was no correlation between the use of pharmacological prophylaxis at either time point and the occurrence of PE, despite a 43% reduction in the lower-extremity DVT rate with pharmacological intervention.

Conclusions: The majority of DVTs occurred within the first week after a neurosurgical procedure. There was a linear correlation between the duration of surgery and DVT occurrence. Use of early subcutaneous heparin (at either 24 or 48 hours) was associated with a 43% reduction of developing a lower-extremity DVT, without an increase in surgical site hemorrhage. There was no association of pharmacological prophylaxis with overall PE occurrence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticoagulants / adverse effects
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Hemorrhage / epidemiology
  • Heparin / adverse effects
  • Heparin / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Embolism / etiology*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Venous Thromboembolism / epidemiology
  • Venous Thromboembolism / etiology*
  • Venous Thromboembolism / prevention & control
  • Venous Thrombosis / epidemiology
  • Venous Thrombosis / etiology*
  • Venous Thrombosis / prevention & control
  • Young Adult


  • Anticoagulants
  • Heparin