• deep vein thrombosis;
  • medical patient;
  • meta-analysis;
  • systematic review;
  • thromboprophylaxis

Summary. Background: The effect of anticoagulant prophylaxis on the prevention of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) should include an investigation of both clinical and subclinical DVT. We conducted a systematic review to determine whether anticoagulant prophylaxis reduces the risk of asymptomatic DVT compared to no prophylaxis in at-risk hospitalized medical patients. Methods: MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library were searched through March 2007 for randomized trials of anticoagulant prophylaxis for the prevention of asymptomatic DVT, assessed by venogram or ultrasound. We assessed four outcomes: all asymptomatic DVT, asymptomatic proximal DVT, major bleeding and mortality. Random effects meta-analyses were performed and results were expressed using relative risk (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs). Results: Four trials including 5516 patients were eligible. Our pooled analysis demonstrated that compared to placebo, anticoagulant prophylaxis was associated with a significantly lower risk of any asymptomatic DVT (RR 0.51; 95% CI 0.39–0.67) and asymptomatic proximal DVT (RR 0.45; 95% CI 0.31–0.65). Anticoagulant prophylaxis was associated with a significantly increased risk of major bleeding compared to placebo (RR 2.00; 95% CI 1.05–3.79). There was no significant difference in the pooled estimate for all-cause mortality. Anticoagulant prophylaxis conferred an absolute risk reduction of any DVT and proximal DVT of 2.6% and 1.8%, respectively, and was associated with a 0.5% absolute risk increase in major bleeding. Conclusions: Anticoagulant prophylaxis is effective in preventing asymptomatic DVT in at-risk hospitalized medical patients but is associated with an increased bleeding risk. The therapeutic benefits of anticoagulant prophylaxis appear to outweigh the risks of bleeding.