Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a known complication after spine surgery, but prophylaxis guidelines are ambiguous for patients undergoing elective spine surgery.

The objective of this study was to characterize the incidence and risk factors for VTE and the association of pharmacologic prophylaxis with VTE and bleeding complications after elective spine surgery.

This is a retrospective cohort study of patients undergoing elective spine surgery in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database and a retrospective cohort analysis at an academic medical center.

This study included 109,609 patients in the NSQIP database from 2005 to 2014 and 2,855 patients at the authors' institution from January 2013 to March 2016 who underwent elective spine surgery.

The incidence and risk factors for VTE were assessed in both cohorts based on the NSQIP criteria. The incidence of bleeding complications requiring reoperation was assessed based on operative reports in the institutional cohort.

Associations of patient and procedure factors with VTE were characterized in the NSQIP population. In the single-institution cohort, in addition to NSQIP variables, a chart review was completed to determine the use of VTE prophylaxis, the history of prior VTE, and the incidence of hematoma requiring reoperation. The association of patient and procedure variables, including pharmacologic prophylaxis and history of prior VTE, with VTE and hematoma requiring reoperation were determined with multivariate regression.

Among 109,609 elective spine surgery patients in NSQIP, independent risk factors for VTE were greater age, male gender, increasing body mass index, dependent functional status, lumbar spine surgery, longer operative time, perioperative blood transfusion, longer length of stay, and other postoperative complications. There were 2,855 patients included in the institutional cohort. Pharmacologic prophylaxis was performed in 56.3% of the institutional patients, of whom 97.1% received unfractionated heparin. When controlling for patient and procedural variables, pharmacologic prophylaxis did not significantly influence the rate of VTE, but was associated with a significant increase in hematoma requiring a return to the operating room (relative risk=7.37, p=.048).

Pharmacologic prophylaxis, primarily with unfractionated heparin, after elective spine surgery was not associated with a significant reduction in VTE. However, there was a significant increase in postoperative hematoma requiring reoperation among patients undergoing prophylaxis. This raises questions about the routine use of unfractionated heparin for VTE prophylaxis and supports the need for further consideration of risks and benefits of chemoprophylaxis after elective spine surgery.

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