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Julian Prell, Jens Rachinger, Robert Smaczny, Bettina-Maria Taute, Stefan Rampp, Joerg Illert, Gershom Koman, Christian Marquart, Alexandra Rachinger, Sebastian Simmermacher, Alex Alfieri, Christian Scheller and Christian Strauss


The incidence of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) after craniotomy is reported to be as high as 50%. In outpatients, D-dimer levels of more than 0.5 mg/L indicate venous thromboembolism (VTE, which subsumes DVT and pulmonary embolism [PE]) with a sensitivity of 99.4% and a specificity of 38.2%. However, D-dimer levels are believed to be unreliable in postoperative patients. The authors undertook the present study to test the hypothesis that D-dimer levels would be systematically raised in a postoperative population and to define a feasible threshold for identification of VTE.


Doppler ultrasonography of the lower extremity was performed pre- and postoperatively to evaluate for DVT in 101 patients who underwent elective craniotomy. D-dimer levels were assessed preoperatively and on the 3rd, 7th, and 10th days after surgery. Statistical analysis was carried out to define a feasible threshold for D-dimer levels.


D-dimer plasma levels were found to be systematically raised postoperatively, and they differed between patients with and without VTE in a highly significant way. On the 3rd day after surgery, D-dimer levels of more than 2 mg/L indicated VTE with a sensitivity of 95.3% and a specificity of 74.1%, allowing for the definition of a feasible threshold. D-dimer levels of more than 4 mg/L were observed in all patients who had PE during the postoperative period (n = 9). Ventilation time and duration of surgery were identified as highly significant risk factors for the development of VTE.


Using a threshold of 2 mg/L, D-dimer levels will indicate VTE with a high degree of sensitivity and specificity in patients who have undergone craniotomy. Pulmonary embolism seems to be indicated by even higher D-dimer levels. Given that the development of D-dimer plasma levels in the postoperative period follows a principle that can be predicted and that deviations from it indicate VTE, this principle might be applicable to other types of surgery.