Thrombolysis for acute deep vein thrombosis

Watson L, Broderick C, Armon MP. Thrombolysis for acute deep vein thrombosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Nov 10;11(11):CD002783.

Main results: Seventeen RCTs with 1103 participants were included. These studies differed in the both thrombolytic agent used and in the technique used to deliver it. Systemic, loco-regional and catheter-directed thrombolysis (CDT) were all included. Fourteen studies were rated as low risk of bias and three studies were rated as high risk of bias. We combined the results as any (all) thrombolysis compared to standard anticoagulation. Complete clot lysis occurred significantly more often in the treatment group at early follow-up (RR 4.91; 95% CI 1.66 to 14.53, P = 0.004) and at intermediate follow-up (RR 2.44; 95% CI 1.40 to 4.27, P = 0.002; moderate quality evidence). A similar effect was seen for any degree of improvement in venous patency. Up to five years after treatment significantly less PTS occurred in those receiving thrombolysis (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.53 to 0.81; P < 0.0001; moderate quality evidence). This reduction in PTS was still observed at late follow-up (beyond five years), in two studies (RR 0.58, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.77; P < 0.0001; moderate quality evidence). Leg ulceration was reduced although the data were limited by small numbers (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.16 to 4.73, P = 0.87). Those receiving thrombolysis had increased bleeding complications (RR 2.23; 95% CI 1.41 to 3.52, P = 0.0006; moderate quality evidence). Three strokes occurred in the treatment group, all in trials conducted pre-1990, and none in the control group. There was no significant effect on mortality detected at either early or intermediate follow-up. Data on the occurrence of pulmonary embolism (PE) and recurrent DVT were inconclusive. Systemic thrombolysis and CDT had similar levels of effectiveness. Studies of CDT included two trials in femoral and iliofemoral DVT, and results from these are consistent with those from trials of systemic thrombolysis in DVT at other levels of occlusion.

Authors’ conclusions: Thrombolysis increases the patency of veins and reduces the incidence of PTS following proximal DVT by a third. Evidence suggests that systemic administration and CDT have similar effectiveness. Strict eligibility criteria appears to improve safety in recent studies and may be necessary to reduce the risk of bleeding complications. This may limit the applicability of this treatment. In those who are treated there is a small increased risk of bleeding. Using GRADE assessment, the evidence was judged to be of moderate quality due to many trials having low numbers of participants. However, the results across studies were consistent and we have reasonable confidence in these results.


Ortel TL, Neumann I, Ageno W, et al. American Society of Hematology 2020 guidelines for management of venous thromboembolism: treatment of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Blood Adv. 2020 Oct 13;4(19):4693-4738.

Free full-text.

Strong recommendations include the use of thrombolytic therapy for patients with PE and hemodynamic compromise, use of an international normalized ratio (INR) range of 2.0 to 3.0 over a lower INR range for patients with VTE who use a vitamin K antagonist (VKA) for secondary prevention, and use of indefinite anticoagulation for patients with recurrent unprovoked VTE. Conditional recommendations include the preference for home treatment over hospital-based treatment for uncomplicated DVT and PE at low risk for complications and a preference for direct oral anticoagulants over VKA for primary treatment of VTE.


Key NS, Khorana AA, Kuderer NM, et al. Venous Thromboembolism Prophylaxis and Treatment in Patients With Cancer: ASCO Clinical Practice Guideline Update. J Clin Oncol. 2020 Feb 10;38(5):496-520.

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