External pneumatic calf compression is effective but imperfect for antithrombotic prophylaxis in surgical patients. In preliminary studies, sequential filling of multisegmented leggings with graded pressure decreasing from ankle to knee increased venous flow velocity and wall shear stress, decreased residual venous volume, and enhanced postoperative fibrinolysis more than uniform compression. To determine if improved hemodynamics also increased antithrombotic activity, we performed a prospective randomized trial in neurosurgical patients comparing sequential application of graded pressure with uniform pressure applied to either a segmented bladder or to a single bladder. Deep vein thrombosis was diagnosed by leg scanning and impedance plethysmography and confirmed by phlebography. Venous thrombosis developed in 3 of 45 patients with graded-sequential filling, 6 of 50 with uniform compression-multiple compartments, and 3 of 41 with uniform pressure single bladder (differences not significant). These results suggest either that uniform compression offers all that can be expected of external pneumatic calf compression in prevention of venous thrombosis, or that even if a study with greater statistical power showed graded-sequential filling to be superior, the benefit/cost ratio of the more complex latter system is not likely to be large.
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