People undergoing major amputation of the lower limb are at increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE). Risk factors for VTE in amputees include advanced age, sedentary lifestyle, longstanding arterial disease and an identifiable hypercoagulable condition. Evidence suggests that pharmacological prophylaxis (e.g. heparin, factor Xa inhibitors, vitamin K antagonists, direct thrombin inhibitors, antiplatelets) is effective in preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), but is associated with an increased risk of bleeding. Mechanical prophylaxis (e.g. antiembolism stockings, intermittent pneumatic compression and foot impulse devices), on the other hand, is non-invasive and has minimal side effects. However, mechanical prophylaxis is not always appropriate for people with contraindications such as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), arteriosclerosis or bilateral lower limb amputations. It is important to determine the most effective thromboprophylaxis for people undergoing major amputation and whether this is one treatment alone or in combination with another. This is an update of the review first published in 2013.
To determine the effectiveness of thromboprophylaxis in preventing VTE in people undergoing major amputation of the lower extremity.
The Cochrane Vascular Information Specialist searched the Cochrane Vascular Specialised Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, Embase and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature databases, the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform and trials registers to 5 November 2019. We planned to undertake reference checking of identified trials to identify additional studies. We did not apply any language restrictions.
We included randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised controlled trials which allocated people undergoing a major unilateral or bilateral amputation (e.g. hip disarticulation, transfemoral, knee disarticulation and transtibial) of the lower extremity to different types or regimens of thromboprophylaxis (including pharmacological or mechanical prophylaxis) or placebo.
Two review authors independently selected studies, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We resolved any disagreements by discussion. Outcomes of interest were VTE (DVT and pulmonary embolism (PE)), mortality, adverse events and bleeding. We used GRADE criteria to assess the certainty of the evidence. The two included studies compared different treatments, so we could not pool the data in a meta-analysis.
We did not identify any eligible new studies for this update. Two studies with a combined total of 288 participants met the inclusion criteria for this review. Unfractionated heparin compared to low molecular weight heparin One study compared unfractionated heparin with low molecular weight heparin and found no evidence of a difference between the treatments in the prevention of DVT (odds ratio (OR) 1.23, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.28 to 5.35; 75 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No bleeding events occurred in either group. Deaths and adverse events were not reported. This study was open-label and therefore at a high risk of performance bias. Additionally, the study did not report the method of randomisation, so the risk of selection bias was unclear. Heparin compared to placebo In the second study, there was no evidence of a benefit from heparin use in preventing PE when compared to placebo (OR 0.84, 95% CI 0.35 to 2.01; 134 participants; low-certainty evidence). Similarly, no evidence of improvement was detected when the level of amputation was considered, with a similar incidence of PE between the two treatment groups: above knee amputation (OR 0.79, 95% CI 0.31 to 1.97; 94 participants; low-certainty evidence); and below knee amputation (OR 1.53, 95% CI 0.09 to 26.43; 40 participants; low-certainty evidence). Ten participants died during the study; five underwent a post-mortem and three were found to have had a recent PE, all of whom had been on placebo (low-certainty evidence). Bleeding events were reported in less than 10% of participants in both treatment groups, but the study did not present specific data (low-certainty evidence). There were no reports of other adverse events. This study did not report the methods used to conceal allocation of treatment, so it was unclear whether selection bias occurred. However, this study appeared to be free from all other sources of bias. No study looked at mechanical prophylaxis.
We did not identify any eligible new studies for this update. As we only included two studies in this review, each comparing different interventions, there is insufficient evidence to make any conclusions regarding the most effective thromboprophylaxis regimen in people undergoing lower limb amputation. Further large-scale studies of good quality are required.

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