World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 10–19 | Cite as

Mechanical Compression Versus Subcutaneous Heparin Therapy in Postoperative and Posttrauma Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

  • Robert W. Eppsteiner
  • Jennifer J. Shin
  • Jonas Johnson
  • Rob M. van Dam



The risk of postoperative venous thromboembolic disease is as high as 30%, with an associated fatality risk of 1%. Therefore, prophylaxis is essential, but the optimal regimen remains controversial. This study was designed to systematically review and quantitatively summarize the impact of mechanical compression versus subcutaneous heparin on venous thromboembolic disease and posttreatment bleeding in postsurgical and posttrauma patients.


Computerized searches of the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases through November 2008 were performed and supplemented with manual searches. We included studies that had: (1) a patient population undergoing surgery or admitted immediately posttrauma, (2) a randomized comparison of prophylaxis with mechanical compression versus subcutaneous heparin, (3) outcome measured in terms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism (PE), or bleeding.


Two reviewers independently extracted data from the original articles, which represented 16 studies, including a total of 3,887 subjects. Meta-analysis was performed using a random effects model. The pooled relative risk for mechanical compression compared with subcutaneous heparin was 1.07 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.72, 1.61) for DVT and 1.03 (95% CI 0.48, 2.22) for PE. Mechanical compression was associated with a significantly reduced risk of postoperative bleeding compared with subcutaneous heparin (risk ratio 0.47; 95% CI 0.31, 0.70). Subgroup analyses by heparin type suggested that low molecular weight heparin may reduce risk of DVT compared with compression (relative risk 1.80; 95% CI 1.16, 2.79) but remains similarly associated with an increased risk of bleeding.


These results suggest that the overall bleeding risk profile favors the use of compression over heparin, with the benefits in term of venous thromboembolic disease prophylaxis being similar between groups. Subgroup analyses suggest that low molecular weight heparin may have a differential effect; this observation should be further evaluated in future studies.


Heparin Pulmonary Embolism Deep Vein Thrombosis Risk Ratio Unfractionated Heparin 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Jennifer J. Shin thanks Mr. Thomas Y. Lin for his assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

268_2009_284_MOESM1_ESM.doc (28 kb)
(DOC 28 kb)


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Copyright information

© Société Internationale de Chirurgie 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Eppsteiner
    • 1
  • Jennifer J. Shin
    • 2
  • Jonas Johnson
    • 3
  • Rob M. van Dam
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck SurgeryUniversity of IowaIowaUSA
  2. 2.Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear InfirmaryBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of OtolaryngologyUniversity of Pittsburgh School of MedicinePittsburghUSA
  4. 4.Harvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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