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Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Apr 7;114(14):244-249. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0244.

Deep Vein Thrombosis of the Upper Extremity.

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Department of General and Visceral Surgery, University Hospital Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main; Hemostasiology, Department of Medicine II, University Hospital Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main; Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, University Hospital Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main.



Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) arises with an incidence of about 1 per 1000 persons per year; 4-10% of all DVTs are located in an upper extremity (DVT-UE). DVT-UE can lead to complications such as post-thrombotic syndrome and pulmonary embolism and carries a high mortality.


This review is based on pertinent literature, published from January 1980 to May 2016, that was retrieved by a systematic search, employing the PRISMA criteria, carried out in four databases: PubMed (n = 749), EMBASE (n = 789), SciSearch (n = 0), and the Cochrane Library (n = 12). Guidelines were included in the search.


DVT-UE arises mainly in patients with severe underlying diseases, especially cancer (odds ratio [OR] 18.1; 95% confidence interval [9.4; 35.1]). The insertion of venous catheters-particularly central venous catheters-also elevates the risk of DVT-UE. Its clinical manifestations are nonspecific. Diagnostic algorithms are of little use, but ultrasonography is very helpful in diagnosis. DVT-UE is treated by anticoagulation, with heparin at first and then with oral anticoagulants. Direct oral anticoagulants are now being increasingly used. The thrombus is often not totally eradicated. Anticoagulation is generally continued as maintenance treatment for 3-6 months. Interventional techniques can be used for special indications. Patients with DVT-UE have a high mortality, though they often die of their underlying diseases rather than of the DVT-UE or its complications.


DVT of the upper extremity is becoming increasingly common, though still much less common than DVT of the lower extremity. The treatment of choice is anticoagulation, which is given analogously to that given for DVT of the lower extremity.

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