Hospital patients can develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the legs and pelvic veins immediately after surgery or if they are not mobile because of a medical illness. Symptoms vary from none to pain and swelling in the legs. A blood clot can move from the leg to the lungs, with the danger of pulmonary embolism (PE) and death. Usually the DVT clears up or has long-term effects such as high venous pressure in the leg, leg pain, swelling, darkening of the skin or inflammation.
DVT can be prevented using compression or drugs. Drugs may cause bleeding, which is a particular concern in surgical patients. Graduated compression stockings (GCS) help prevent blood clots forming in the legs by applying varying amounts of pressure to different parts of the leg. We identified 19 randomised controlled trials (2745 analytic units made up of 1681 individual patients and 1064 individual legs). Eight trials compared wearing stockings to no stockings and 10 compared stockings plus another method with that method alone in patients undergoing surgery. The other methods used were Dextran 70, aspirin, heparin, and mechanical sequential compression. Of the 19 trials, nine included patients undergoing general surgery, six included patients undergoing orthopaedic surgery, and only one trial included medical patients. The compression stockings were applied on the day before surgery or on the day of surgery and were worn up until discharge or until the patients were fully mobile. In the majority of the included studies DVT was identified by the radioactive I125 uptake test. Overall, included studies were of good quality.
Our review confirmed that GCS reduce the risk of DVT in hospitalised surgical patients. It also demonstrated that GCS may reduce the risk of developing DVT in the thighs (proximal DVT) and PE in such patients, though these results were based on a much smaller number of participants. The incidence of adverse effects and complications associated with wearing GCS was poorly reported in the included studies. Limited evidence was available for hospitalised medical patients, with only one study suggesting the effectiveness of GCS in preventing DVT in such patients.