Background: Surgical interventions in patients on long term vitamin K antagonist (VKA) treatment create a dilemma; periprocedural interruption of anticoagulation raises the risk of thrombosis, while continuation raises the risk of bleeding. The anticoagulation- free interval is minimized by “bridging” with parenteral anticoagulants. The efficacy and safety of bridging with low molecular weight heparins (LMWH) has however not been unequivocally established.
Methods: We performed an EMBASE and MEDLINE search for studies that compared bridging anticoagulation with continuation or cessation of VKA without bridging; with thromboembolism (TE) and bleeding as outcomes. We identified 878 articles and finally selected 17. Results of individual studies were pooled.
Results: None of the included studies reported significant differences in incidence of TEs between the bridging group and the comparator group; 4 out of 13 studies reported zero TEs. Heparin was identified as a risk factor for bleeding in multivariable adjusted analyses in 3 studies on pacemaker/implantable cardioverter defibrillator (PM/ICD) surgery. In 5 studies (different types of surgery) with unadjusted analyses, bridging was compared to warfarin cessation: 3 studies reported null results for bleeding; 2 studies identified bridging as a risk factor. We pooled a subset of 6 studies regarding postoperative bleeding after PM/ICD surgery and found a relative risk (RR) of 3.03 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.86-4.95) for bridging compared to continuation of VKA.
Conclusions: While the antithrombotic efficacy of bridging with LMWH has not been demonstrated, increased bleeding risk is observed in different types of surgery. PM/ICD surgery can be safely performed on continued VKA.