Management of venous thromboembolism in the intensive care unit

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Venous thromboembolism, manifested as either deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism (PE), is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in patients admitted to the intensive care unit. Clinically, PE may present as massive thromboembolism associated with cardiogenic shock or may be asymptomatic, as may occur with anatomically small emboli without hemodynamic or respiratory compromise. The management of venous thromboembolism in the critically ill patient can be exceedingly complex. The main treatment objectives are the prevention of recurrent PE and, in case of hemodynamic compromise, definitive therapy for deep venous thrombosis or PE involving removal of thrombus. Prevention of recurrent PE is accomplished with anticoagulation and/or placement of an inferior vena cava filter. Definitive therapy involves thrombolysis and surgical or catheter embolectomy. Fluid and vasoactive therapy with norepinephrine may be indicated for refractory hypotension in patients with massive PE.

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