A meta-analysis of anticoagulation for calf deep venous thrombosis

J Vasc Surg. 2012 Jul;56(1):228-37.e1; discussion 236-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2011.09.087. Epub 2011 Dec 29.


Objective: This meta-analysis was initiated to assess the efficacy and safety of anticoagulation therapy for adult patients with isolated calf vein deep venous thrombosis (DVT).

Methods: We searched MEDLINE (1950-October 2010), the Cochrane Library (1993-October 2010), trial registries, meeting abstracts, and selected references, using no limits. Included studies compared the results of anticoagulation (vitamin K antagonist or therapeutic heparin) for a minimum of 30 days vs the results of no anticoagulation in adults with calf vein DVT proved by ultrasound imaging or venograph who were monitored for at least 30 days. Two independent reviewers extracted data using a piloted standardized form. Methodologic quality was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and the Newcastle-Ottawa Quality Assessment Scale for cohort and case-control studies. Discrepancies were resolved by consensus or by a third reviewer. Authors were contacted for additional information if necessary. Outcomes were pooled using Peto fixed-effects models.

Results: Of 2328 studies identified, two RCTs and six cohorts (126 patients treated with anticoagulation and 328 controls) met selection criteria. The methodologic quality of most studies was poor. Pulmonary embolism (PE; odds ratio, 0.12; 95% confidence interval, 0.02-0.77; P = .03) and thrombus propagation (odds ratio, 0.29; 95% confidence interval, 0.14-0.62; P = .04) were significantly less frequent in those who received anticoagulation. Significant heterogeneity existed in studies reporting mortality rates, but these demonstrated a trend toward fewer deaths with anticoagulation. When limited to randomized trials, the protective effect of anticoagulation for PE was no longer statistically significant, but the benefit for preventing thrombus progression persisted. Adverse events such as bleeding were sparsely reported but favored controls (P = .65).

Conclusions: Our review suggests that anticoagulation therapy for calf vein DVT may decrease the incidence of PE and thrombus propagation. However, due to poor methodologic quality and few events among included studies for PE, this finding is not robust. Thrombus propagation appears reduced with anticoagulation treatment. A rigorous RCT will assist in treatment decisions for calf vein DVT.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Humans
  • Leg / blood supply*
  • Venous Thrombosis / diagnosis
  • Venous Thrombosis / drug therapy*


  • Anticoagulants