VTE Prevention: Is Aspirin Really That Good?

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a three recent studiesthe following commentary comes from Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD.

Throughout the last decade, we’ve experienced a boom in anticoagulation options to help prevent venous thromboembolism (VTE) associated with orthopaedic procedures. The use of aggressive anticoagulation, such as warfarin and various heparin formulations, is being questioned, largely due to concerns about bleeding risks and wound complications.  Along with the newer direct oral anticoagulants such as rivaroxaban, over-the-counter aspirin (ASA) is gaining prominence as an anticoagulant due to its high efficacy, low cost, convenience for patients, favorable side-effect profile, and cardioprotective attributes.  Current guidelines include the use of all these thromboprophylactic agents, but three recent studies lend credence to using aspirin as the primary VTE prophylactic agent when performing total joint arthroplasty (TJA).

In a  March 20, 2019 JBJS study analyzing >31,000 TJAs performed at a single institution over 17 years, Rondon et al. found a 3-fold lower 30-day and 2-fold lower 1-year mortality rate in patients receiving ASA (81mg or 325 mg twice daily), compared to those who received non-aspirin thromboprophylaxis (mainly warfarin).  No mortality differences were noted between the two ASA dosing regimens.  While investigating specific causes of death, the authors discovered that the primary cause of death in the non-ASA cohort was cardiac related at all time points.

A second study, from the April 3, 2019 JBJS, looked into the effects of 3 antithrombotic agents on symptomatic VTE rates and periprosthetic infections in high-risk patients undergoing primary or revision TJA.  When compared to the two more potent agents (warfarin and low-molecular-weight heparin), ASA proved more effective at reducing pulmonary embolism (PE) and VTE rates in high-risk patients, and it was also associated with lower rates of periprosthetic joint infection when compared with warfarin.  Thus, it seems that even in patients deemed to be higher risk for developing VTE, ASA may be a safe, effective option.

Lastly, Runner et al. gleaned VTE prophylaxis data from >22,000 TJA cases submitted by surgeons sitting for Part 2 of ABOS between 2014 and 2016.  The findings, reported in the April 2019 issue of the Journal of Arthroplasty, showed similar trends to those seen in the two previously mentioned studies: Mild (distal or superficial deep vein thrombosis [DVT]), moderate (nonfatal PE, proximal DVT) and severe (fatal PE) VTE events, as well as death, were significantly less frequent in those who received ASA compared to more aggressive agents (heparin or one of its analogs, direct oral agents, or warfarin). Also, patients who received ASA with or without mechanical prophylaxis had significantly lower complication rates (95.5% vs. 93.0%, p<0.001).

One firmly held dogma in medicine is that patients who are at higher risk for VTE should be treated with stronger anticoagulation medications. However, these 3 studies support the idea that less aggressive anticoagulation medication (specifically, low-dose aspirin) may be the more effective and safer option for most patients. In our ongoing quest to improve patient outcomes and mitigate risk around the TJA episode, we should consider using aspirin for thromboprophylaxis unless there is an explicit contraindication in a specific patient.

However, we should also keep in mind that these three studies have the common limitations of all retrospective analyses. Recent randomized trials have shown aspirin to be “noninferior” to other anticoagulants for VTE prevention, and in less than 2 years, we should have even more definitive answers to this question from the randomized, multicenter PEPPER trial, with its estimated 25,000 participants.

Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD is an orthopaedic hip and knee surgeon, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

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