Low molecular weight heparin in patients undergoing free tissue transfer following head and neck ablative surgery: review of efficacy and associated complications


      Most microsurgeons report the use of anticoagulants in their routine practice. Anti-Xa concentrations are preferentially used to monitor treatment with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH). The aim of this retrospective study was to measure the therapeutic response to standard dosing with LMWH (using anti-Xa) in patients after ablative and reconstructive surgery for head and neck cancer, and to review the associated risk of bleeding. We retrospectively reviewed 153 patients who had undergone resection of primary or recurrent tumours of the head and neck with free flap reconstruction. In total, 173 free flap procedures were completed. Medical records were reviewed to find the anticoagulation regimen used, anti-Xa result, patients’ weight, and any associated complications. Fourteen patients returned to theatre because of bleeding; of these no cause was identified in 6 and a haematoma was evacuated. The distribution of unexplained haematoma was similar for all dose regimens of dalteparin. Anti-Xa results were available in 47 cases, and of these, 22 (47%) were within the prophylactic range (0.2 IU/ml or more). Our results highlight the high incidence of inadequate response to standard prophylactic doses of LMWH in patients with head and neck cancer. Increasing the dose of dalteparin does not seem to increase the risk of bleeding or formation of a haematoma. These findings may be transferable to other surgical specialties.


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