Therapy in Practice

American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 45-50

First online:

Current Management of Acute Symptomatic Deep Vein Thrombosis

  • John A. HeitAffiliated withDivision of Cardiovascular Diseases, Section of Vascular Diseases, and the Division of Hematology, Section of Hematology Research, Department of Internal Medicine, Plummer 549, Mayo Clinic and Foundation

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Venous thromboembolism is a common and potentially fatal disease. If properly used, anticoagulation therapy is effective in preventing recurrence of venous thromboembolism and in improving survival. Symptomatic patients with an objective diagnosis of acute deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE) should receive immediate systemic heparin anticoagulation at dosages sufficient to rapidly prolong the activated partial thromboplastin time into the laboratory-specific therapeutic range; this range corresponds to a plasma heparin concentration of 0.2 to 0.4 IU/ml (as measured by protamine sulfate titration), or 0.3 to 0.7 anti-Xa IU/ml. An oral vitamin K antagonist (e.g. warfarin) should be started within 24 hours after starting heparin; the starting dose should be the estimated patient-specific daily dose with no loading dose. Heparin and warfarin anticoagulation should be overlapped for at least 4 to 5 days and until the international normalized ratio (INR) is within the therapeutic range (2.0 to 3.0) on 2 measurements made at least 24 hours apart.

The duration of warfarin anticoagulation should be individualized based on the respective risks of venous thromboembolism recurrence and anticoagulant-related bleeding. In general, warfarin should be continued for at least 3 months, and longer for patients with recurrent or idiopathic venous thromboembolism, malignant neoplasm, neurologic disease with extremity paresis, obesity, or laboratory evidence of a lupus anticoagulant/anticardiolipin antibody, homozygous carrier or combined heterozygous carrier for the factor V R506Q (Leiden) and prothrombin G20210A mutations, and possibly deficiency of either antithrombin, protein C, or protein S.

Low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) is effective and well tolerated as acute therapy for patients with DVT or stable PE, and does not require laboratory monitoring or dose adjustment. Outpatient LMWH therapy is also well tolerated and cost effective for most patients with DVT, and possibly for selected patients with PE.