Background: Although deep-vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are considered common complications after major trauma, their frequency and the associated risk factors have not been carefully quantified.
Methods: We performed serial impedance plethysmography and lower-extremity contrast venography to detect deep-vein thrombosis in a cohort of 716 patients admitted to a regional trauma unit. Prophylaxis against thromboembolism was not used.
Results: Deep-vein thrombosis in the lower extremities was found in 201 of the 349 patients (58 percent) with adequate venographic studies, and proximal-vein thrombosis was found in 63 (18 percent). Three patients died of massive pulmonary embolism before venography could be performed. Before venography, only three of the patients with deep-vein thrombosis had clinical features suggestive of the condition. Deep-vein thrombosis was found in 65 of the 129 patients with major injuries involving the face, chest, or abdomen (50 percent); in 49 of the 91 patients with major head injuries (53.8 percent); in 41 of the 66 with spinal injuries (62 percent); and in 126 of the 182 with lower-extremity orthopedic injuries (69 percent). Thrombi were detected in 61 of the 100 patients with pelvic fractures (61 percent), in 59 of the 74 with femoral fractures (80 percent), and in 66 of the 86 with tibial fractures (77 percent). A multivariate analysis identified five independent risk factors for deep-vein thrombosis: older age (odds ratio, 1.05 per year of age; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 1.06), blood transfusion (odds ratio, 1.74; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 2.93), surgery (odds ratio, 2.30; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.08 to 4.89), fracture of the femur or tibia (odds ratio, 4.82; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.79 to 8.33), and spinal cord injury (odds ratio, 8.59; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.92 to 25.28).
Conclusions: Venous thromboembolism is a common complication in patients with major trauma, and effective, safe prophylactic regimens are needed.