Low molecular weight heparin: a critical analysis of clinical trials.
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LMWHs are an important new class of antithrombotic agents. They differ from UFH in having relatively more anti-Xa activity, greater bioavailability at low doses, longer half-life, and more predictable anticoagulant response when administered in fixed doses. These properties allow LMWHs to be administered QD or at most BID and without laboratory monitoring. The incidence of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia also appears to be lower with an LMWH than with heparin. Given their favorable pharmacological profile, it was of interest to critically appraise clinical trials of thromboprophylaxis and treatment with these new agents. In orthopedic trials, it was noted that LMWH provided safe and effective thromboprophylaxis for patients undergoing major orthopedic surgery of the lower limb. In those having hip arthroplasty, LMWH was as effective as low-intensity warfarin therapy, but its use was associated with more wound hematomas. In those having total knee arthroplasty, LMWH was more effective than warfarin and did not increase bleeding. However, the prevalence of DVTs complicating this procedure as well as acute hip fracture remains unacceptably high, and additional studies of LMWH in combination with other prophylactic methods, such as external pneumatic compression, are needed. Only one adequately designed trial found less bleeding resulted from LMWH prophylaxis administered at an equivalent antithrombotic dose to UFH. In general medical patients, LMWH appeared to be as effective as UFH and had the advantages of less frequent injections and fewer injection site hematomas. In general surgical patients, there was a lower risk of thromboembolism but a trend toward an increase in bleeding events. Subjects with strokes and spinal cord injuries benefited from fewer thrombotic events, and the latter had fewer bleeding complications. Other potential indications for LMWH, such as cardiopulmonary bypass, hemodialysis, and preservation of graft patency, are presently under study. Perhaps the most impressive benefits of LMWH will be realized when it is used for the treatment of venous thromboembolism. The meta-analysis presented in this review showed a trend toward greater efficacy with LMWH and fewer major bleeding events in comparison with adjusted-dose intravenous UFH. Also, during the months following the thrombotic event, there was significantly less mortality in patients receiving LMWH. A further advantage was the subcutaneous route of administration and lack of requirement for laboratory monitoring. Additional treatment trials are presently in progress and may establish LMWH as the treatment of choice for patients with thromboembolic disorders.
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