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An uncommon yet serious complication that can happen after any major surgery is the formation of a blood clot in the legs, called a deep venous thrombosis (DVT). This clot can travel to the lungs where it can interfere with blood flow to the heart and is referred to as a pulmonary embolism (PE). Fortunately, a recent study showed that in very high risk patients for DVT or PE who are having plastic surgery, a medication given after surgery can significantly reduce the chance of these complications.

The medication is called Enoxaparin, and is injected under the skin for 1 to 4 weeks after surgery or until a patient is able to walk normally. Other similar medications, called low molecular weight heparins (LMWH), may also be used to achieve the same effect.

Enoxaparin and other LMWHs are blood-thinners (anticoagulants) that have been shown to reduce the risk of serious blood clot-related complications in other types of surgery, especially hip and knee replacements.

As a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons VTE Task Force, Dr. Gutowski was charged with developing guidelines for preventing VTE complications in plastic surgery patients. These guidelines were presented this year and are expected to be published in 2012.

Dr. Gutowski recommends that patients ask their surgeon about having a VTE risk assessment before surgery using the  xxx and following their surgeon’s recommendations before and after surgery to reduce the risk of these complications.