Incidence and management of pulmonary embolism following spinal surgery occurring while under chemical thromboprophylaxis

C. Schizas, F. Neumayer, V. Kosmopoulos

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Patients undergoing spinal surgery are at risk of developing thromboembolic complications even though lower incidences have been reported as compared to joint arthroplasty surgery. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) has been studied extensively in the context of spinal surgery but symptomatic pulmonary embolism (PE) has engaged less attention. We prospectively followed a consecutive cohort of 270 patients undergoing spinal surgery at a single institution. From these patients, only 26 were simple discectomies, while the largest proportion (226) was fusions. All patients received both low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) initiated after surgery and compressive stockings. PE was diagnosed with spiral chest CT. Six patients developed symptomatic PE, five during their hospital stay. In three of the six patients the embolic event occurred during the first 3 postoperative days. They were managed by the temporary insertion of an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter thus allowing for a delay in full-dose anticoagulation until removal of the filter. None of the PE patients suffered any bleeding complication as a result of the introduction of full anticoagulation. Two patients suffered postoperative haematomas, without development of neurological symptoms or signs, requiring emergency evacuation. The overall incidence of PE was 2.2% rising to 2.5% after exclusion of microdiscectomy cases. The incidence of PE was highest in anterior or combined thoracolumbar/lumbar procedures (4.2%). There is a large variation in the reported incidence of PE in the spinal literature. Results from the only study found in the literature specifically monitoring PE suggest an incidence of PE as high as 2.5%. Our study shows a similar incidence despite the use of LMWH. In the absence of randomized controlled trials (RCT) it is uncertain if this type of prophylaxis lowers the incidence of PE. However, other studies show that the morbidity of LMWH is very low. Since PE can be a life-threatening complication, LMWH may be a worthwhile option to consider for prophylaxis. RCTs are necessary in assessing the efficacy of DVT and PE prophylaxis in spinal patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)970-974
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Incidence
  • Low molecular weight heparin
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Spinal surgery


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