Background: Low-molecular-weight heparin is known to be safe and effective for the initial treatment of patients with proximal deep-vein thrombosis. However, its application to pulmonary embolism or previous episodes of thromboembolism has not been studied.
Methods: We randomly assigned 1021 patients with symptomatic venous thromboembolism to fixed-dose, subcutaneous low-molecular-weight heparin (reviparin sodium) or adjusted-dose, intravenous unfractionated heparin. Oral anticoagulant therapy with a coumarin derivative was started concomitantly and continued for 12 weeks. Approximately one third of the patients had associated pulmonary embolism. The outcome events studied over the 12 weeks were symptomatic recurrent venous thromboembolism, major bleeding, and death. We sought to determine whether low-molecular-weight heparin is at least equivalent to unfractionated heparin in patients with venous thromboembolism.
Results: Twenty-seven of the 510 patients assigned to low-molecular-weight heparin (5.3 percent) had recurrent thromboembolic events, as compared with 25 of the 511 patients assigned to unfractionated heparin (4.9 percent). The difference of 0.4 percentage point indicates that the two therapies have equivalent value according to our predetermined definition of equivalence. Sixteen patients assigned to low-molecular-weight heparin (3.1 percent) and 12 patients assigned to unfractionated heparin (2.3 percent) had episodes of major bleeding (P= 0.63), and the mortality rates in the two groups were 7.1 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively (P=0.89).
Conclusions: Fixed-dose, subcutaneous low-molecular-weight heparin is as effective and safe as adjusted-dose, intravenous unfractionated heparin for the initial management of venous thromboembolism, regardless of whether the patient has pulmonary embolism or a history of venous thromboembolism.