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Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1998 Jun;118(6):777-84.

Incidence of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.

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Department of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery, University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, Iowa City, USA.



Postoperative deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolus are major causes of morbidity and mortality in patients undergoing surgical procedures. In contrast to other surgical fields, the incidence of these life-threatening conditions has not been studied in our specialty. The purposes of this study were to elucidate the incidence of deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolus in patients after otolaryngologic operations and to identify specific risk factors that may contribute to the development of these conditions.


A retrospective analysis was done of 12,805 total operations on adults done by the Department of Otolaryngology at our institution from January 1987 to December 1994 to determine the number of patients in whom postoperative deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolus developed. Patients in whom a postoperative thromboembolic event developed after an otolaryngologic surgical procedure were identified by the medical records department with use of an abstracting database. This search cross-referenced disease-specific codes for otolaryngologic procedures with the codes for deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolus to identify the 34 patients in this report. Results (rounded to the nearest decimal point) were then categorized according to the different subspecialties within otolaryngology, and appropriate statistical analysis tests were performed on the resulting data.


Thirty-four patients with postoperative deep vein thrombosis were identified during the study period, for an overall incidence of 0.3%. Of these 34 patients, 24 also had a pulmonary embolus for an overall incidence of 0.2%. The incidence of deep venous thrombosis (and pulmonary embolus) in the subspecialties was as follows: head and neck surgery, 0.6% (0.4%); otology/neurotology, 0.3% (0.2%); head and neck trauma and plastic surgery, 0.1% (0.1%); and general otolaryngology, 0.1% (0.04%). Only the patient's age and the presence or absence of pneumatic compression devices were identified as independent risk factors for the development of a thromboembolic event.


Postoperative pulmonary embolus is a rare occurrence in the field of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. When it does occur, it causes significant morbidity and increases the cost of care for that patient. We discuss our approach to categorizing patients into low-, intermediate-, and high-risk groups, as well as prophylaxis against pulmonary embolus.

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