BACKGROUND: Thromboprophylaxis can reduce the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) during lower-limb immobilisation, but it is unclear whether or not this translates into meaningful health benefit, justifies the risk of bleeding or is cost-effective. Risk assessment models (RAMs) could select higher-risk individuals for thromboprophylaxis.
OBJECTIVES: To determine the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different strategies for providing thromboprophylaxis to people with lower-limb immobilisation caused by injury and to identify priorities for future research.
DATA SOURCES: Ten electronic databases and research registers (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Review of Effects, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Health Technology Assessment database, NHS Economic Evaluation Database, Science Citation Index Expanded, ClinicalTrials.gov and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform) were searched from inception to May 2017, and this was supplemented by hand-searching reference lists and contacting experts in the field.
REVIEW METHODS: Systematic reviews were undertaken to determine the effectiveness of pharmacological thromboprophylaxis in lower-limb immobilisation and to identify any study of risk factors or RAMs for VTE in lower-limb immobilisation. Study quality was assessed using appropriate tools. A network meta-analysis was undertaken for each outcome in the effectiveness review and the results of risk-prediction studies were presented descriptively. A modified Delphi survey was undertaken to identify risk predictors supported by expert consensus. Decision-analytic modelling was used to estimate the incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained of different thromboprophylaxis strategies from the perspectives of the NHS and Personal Social Services.
RESULTS: Data from 6857 participants across 13 trials were included in the meta-analysis. Thromboprophylaxis with low-molecular-weight heparin reduced the risk of any VTE [odds ratio (OR) 0.52, 95% credible interval (CrI) 0.37 to 0.71], clinically detected deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) (OR 0.40, 95% CrI 0.12 to 0.99) and pulmonary embolism (PE) (OR 0.17, 95% CrI 0.01 to 0.88). Thromboprophylaxis with fondaparinux (Arixtra®, Aspen Pharma Trading Ltd, Dublin, Ireland) reduced the risk of any VTE (OR 0.13, 95% CrI 0.05 to 0.30) and clinically detected DVT (OR 0.10, 95% CrI 0.01 to 0.94), but the effect on PE was inconclusive (OR 0.47, 95% CrI 0.01 to 9.54). Estimates of the risk of major bleeding with thromboprophylaxis were inconclusive owing to the small numbers of events. Fifteen studies of risk factors were identified, but only age (ORs 1.05 to 3.48), and injury type were consistently associated with VTE. Six studies of RAMs were identified, but only two reported prognostic accuracy data for VTE, based on small numbers of patients. Expert consensus was achieved for 13 risk predictors in lower-limb immobilisation due to injury. Modelling showed that thromboprophylaxis for all is effective (0.015 QALY gain, 95% CrI 0.004 to 0.029 QALYs) with a cost-effectiveness of £13,524 per QALY, compared with thromboprophylaxis for none. If risk-based strategies are included, it is potentially more cost-effective to limit thromboprophylaxis to patients with a Leiden thrombosis risk in plaster (cast) [L-TRiP(cast)] score of = 9 (£20,000 per QALY threshold) or = 8 (£30,000 per QALY threshold). An optimal threshold on the L-TRiP(cast) receiver operating characteristic curve would have sensitivity of 84-89% and specificity of 46-55%.
LIMITATIONS: Estimates of RAM prognostic accuracy are based on weak evidence. People at risk of bleeding were excluded from trials and, by implication, from modelling.
CONCLUSIONS: Thromboprophylaxis for lower-limb immobilisation due to injury is clinically effective and cost-effective compared with no thromboprophylaxis. Risk-based thromboprophylaxis is potentially optimal but the prognostic accuracy of existing RAMs is uncertain.
FUTURE WORK: Research is required to determine whether or not an appropriate RAM can accurately select higher-risk patients for thromboprophylaxis.
STUDY REGISTRATION: This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42017058688.
FUNDING: The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.
People who have their leg immobilised in a plaster cast or brace following an injury are at risk of developing a blood clot. Sometimes the clot can break up and lodge in the lungs, which can make the person seriously ill. Drugs that thin the blood (anticoagulants) can reduce the risk of blood clots, but they carry a small risk of serious bleeding. This study analysed all published trials of anticoagulants for people with leg immobilisation and found that, without treatment, there was a 1–2% risk of a serious blood clot. This risk was roughly halved by using anticoagulant treatment. These estimates were used in a simulation model of patient treatment and it was found that the benefit of anticoagulants in reducing blood clots (in terms of length and quality of life) outweighed the risks of bleeding. Next, all published studies of risk assessment tools were analysed. Risk assessment tools can be used to predict who is most likely to get a blood clot. There were only a few studies and they had significant weaknesses. The risk assessment tools in the simulation model were evaluated and it was found that the most cost-effective approach was to use a risk assessment tool to select approximately half of the patients for treatment (those at higher risk), while not treating those at lower risk. Treating only the higher-risk patients would be a cost-effective use of NHS resources, compared with treating nobody. Treating everybody, compared with just treating higher-risk patients, would improve outcomes for some patients but would not be a cost-effective use of NHS resources. This study suggests that anticoagulant drugs are an effective and potentially cost-effective way of preventing blood clots in people with leg immobilisation due to injury. Research is needed to determine whether or not risk assessment tools can accurately predict who needs anticoagulant drugs and who does not.