Venous thromboembolism: why does ethnicity matter?

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Venous thromboembolism: why does ethnicity matter?


BOUNAMEAUX, Henri, ROSENDAAL, Frits R. Venous thromboembolism: why does ethnicity matter? Circulation , 2011, vol. 123, no. 20, p. 2189-91

DOI : 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.031690 PMID : 21555708

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DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.031690

2011;123;2189-2191; originally published online May 9, 2011;


Henri Bounameaux and Frits R. Rosendaal

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Venous Thromboembolism

Why Does Ethnicity Matter?

Henri Bounameaux, MD; Frits R. Rosendaal, MD, PhD


enous thromboembolism (VTE) is a disease that is caused by genetic and environmental factors that inter- act in a dynamic, time-dependent model.1Therefore, it is not astonishing that, although VTE is seen throughout the world, the rate of its clinical manifestations, deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), varies. Thus, Asian and Native American individuals have been reported to have a significantly lower rate of VTE than whites and blacks; the latter present with the highest rate2 and worst 90-day prognosis.3

Article see p 2219

These ethnic differences might, at least in part, be ascribed to disparities in diagnostic procedures across several coun- tries, but this explanation does not hold completely within the United States. In a cross-sectional study, Heit et al reported that, compared with whites, blacks had a 40% higher age- adjusted VTE incidence.4,5 Moreover, the prevalence of transient risk factors appeared to be lower among blacks, with a high proportion of thromboembolic events being idiopathic or unprovoked, an observation suggesting that heritability may be important in the pathogenesis of VTE in this population.

Among the genetic causes of the disease, 2 traits have been recognized as more prevalent than others, affecting several percent of the population: the so-called Leiden mutation of coagulation factor V and the G3A transition at nucleotide 20210 of prothrombin (coagulation factor II). Factor V Leiden has a mutation at one of the cleavage sites in position 506 (factor VR506Q) for activated protein C, a natural inhibitor of coagulation, which renders its activated form (activated factor V) less sensitive to inactivation by activated protein C.

The prothrombin mutation is associated with increased plasma concentration of prothrombin. These 2 mutations confer an increased risk of thrombosis to the affected indi- vidual. Thus, in the heterozygous form, the factor V Leiden is associated with a 6-fold increased risk,6 and the 20210A prothrombin mutation is associated with a 3-fold increased

risk.7Even though the absolute risk of VTE in heterozygous carriers is low for the 2 mutations, 0.6% per year for factor V Leiden8 and 0.4% per year for the prothrombin mutation,9 they are, because of their high prevalence, responsible for around 20% for all venous thrombotic events (population- attributable risk). All these figures are valid only for whites, and wide geographic variations point to likely ethnic/racial differences (Table).

In the current issue of Circulation, Tang et al10 add an interesting piece to the puzzle. Taking advantage of a large consecutive series of patients who died of out-of-hospital PE in the New York City area, they were able to compare incidence rates and personal characteristics of these individ- uals, including ethnicity. In brief, fatal out-of-hospital PE was 3 times more frequent in blacks (3.7 per 100 000 people per year) than in whites (1.15) and in Hispanics (0.9). Interest- ingly, the heterozygous factor V Leiden status was strongly correlated with earlier age-at-death from PE. As expected, however, the 2 previously mentioned mutations were very rare or absent among nonwhites. The authors also report data on the molecular testing of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase C677T variant, which is not, however, a prothrom- botic factor. From a clinical perspective, there is no point at all in measuring it, and indeed it did not stand out in this study.

The table displays the incidence rates of VTE and fatal PE and age-at-death in fatal PE as well as the prevalence of the factor V Leiden and prothrombin 20210A mutations accord- ing to ethnicity, based on the literature and on the report by Tang et al. In aggregate, these figures reveal not only a few consistent facts, but also some intriguing clues.

Compared with nonblacks, blacks experience 40% more VTE and 3 times more frequent fatal PE and die at a 10-year younger age in the case of fatal PE, but they do not carry the factor V Leiden and prothrombin 20210A mutations. It is noteworthy that the Leiden mutation was strongly associated with earlier age-at-death, but not with the risk of fatal PE itself. Interestingly, this mutation had been suggested to predispose to DVT much more strongly (with an odds ratio of 5 to 6 in comparison with controls without the mutation) than to PE (odds ratio of only 2.5), the so-called factor V Leiden paradox, in a mainly white population.11The earlier age at death in blacks should be viewed in the light of the younger age of the black population than of the white population:

according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene summary of vital statistics, 11% of blacks are 65 years or older compared with 17% of whites. Now, if we compare 2 populations of which one is very much younger, the average age at death will invariably also be younger in that population. So, the large reported difference The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the

editors or of the American Heart Association.

From the Division of Angiology and Hemostasis, University Hospitals and Faculty of Medicine of Geneva, Switzerland (H.B.); and the Departments of Clinical Epidemiology and of Thrombosis and Haemo- stasis, Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands (F.R.R.).

Correspondence to H. Bounameaux, MD, Division of Angiology and Hemostasis, Hoˆpitaux Universitaires de Gene`ve, 4, rue Gabrielle-Perret- Gentil, CH-1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland. E-mail henri.bounameaux@

(Circulation. 2011;123:2189-2191.)

© 2011 American Heart Association, Inc.

Circulationis available at DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.031690



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of 9 years of age at death will, at least in part, be explained by this age difference in the 2 populations.

There are several other potential limitations to the data presented, starting from the definition of ethnic groups, especially in the United States, where mixed ethnic back- grounds are not uncommon. In addition, the methodological quality of the epidemiological studies in the field is far from ideal. In the report by Tang et al, the focus is on the end point of fatal PE, which implies that we observe the tip of the iceberg, and 2 denominators are missing: first, there is a population with a distribution of risk factors, from which, second, originate cases with PE, of whom some subsequently die. When focusing on the last group, and comparing results with the general population, results should be interpreted with caution. For instance, factor V Leiden genotypes are higher among those with fatal PE than in the general population, but this does not imply that factor V Leiden specifically increases the risk of embolic death; it is a risk factor for PE, and so increased in those with all forms of VTE (the second denominator). Similarly, when factor V Leiden prevalence among white and black PE deaths are compared, they are different because they differ in the 2 denominators: in the population as a whole, there is a racial difference in factor V Leiden prevalence, whereas in PE patients (the population at risk to die of PE), there are more carriers of the Leiden mutation than in the population as a whole, because it is a risk factor for PE. When one only looks at the fatal cases, one cannot see in which of the 2 denominators the difference actually occurs, and whether a factor increases risk of all PE, or specifically fatal PE.

Nevertheless, these observations point to the large disparity of clinical presentation of VTE, ranging from isolated DVT to extensive proximal DVT with or without PE, isolated PE, and fatal PE. It also suggests that these clinical presentations might not just occur by chance as one type or the other, which is further supported by the fact that patients who have a recurrence after a DVT often again have DVT, whereas

patients who experienced a PE often experience recurrence of a PE.12This leads us to postulate yet unrecognized genetic predispositions to the one clinical type or the other. If this were true, blacks would have a particular predisposition to VTE, and specifically to PE, causing death at an early age, possibly in relation with a particular thrombus composition that makes it less stable, less attached to the vessel wall, and more prone to embolize. It is certain that the last word has not been said about this, and genetic breakthroughs in the future will provide new insight into a disease that may prove less simple than most clinicians believe.

But before this happens, what should be done based on our present knowledge? First, thoroughly designed epidemiolog- ical research should focus on nonwhite populations to iden- tify genetic and other risk factors for VTE, especially fatal PE. Second, public policies such as outlined in the recent Surgeon General’s call13 should particularly target ethnic groups that are at higher risk. Third, clinicians should integrate the higher risk of VTE in blacks in their clinical assessment in patients clinically suspected of DVT or PE, and monitor treatment with utmost care in these patients once diagnosis has been confirmed.




1. Rosendaal FR. Venous thrombosis: a multicausal disease.Lancet. 1999;


2. Roberts LN, Patel RK, Arya R. Venous thromboembolism and ethnicity.

Br J Haematol. 2009;146:369 –383.

3. Aujesky D, Long JA, Fine MJ, Ibrahim SA. African American race is associated with an increased risk of complications following venous thromboembolism.J Clin Epidemiol. 2007;60:410 – 416.

4. Heit JA, Beckman MG, Bockenstedt PL, Grant AM, Key NS, Kulkarni R, Manco-Johnson MJ, Moll S, Ortel TL, Philipp CS. Comparison of char- acteristics from White- and Black-Americans with venous thromboem- bolism: a cross-sectional study.Am J Hematol. 2010;85:467– 471.

Table. Some Characteristics of VTE in Relation to Ethnicity

Whites Blacks Hispanics

South-East Asians

Yearly incidence of VTE5* 104 141 55 26

Yearly incidence of fatal out-of-hospital death10*

1.15 3.73 0.93 0.18

Prevalence of FVL in general population (%)2 5–15 0 NA 0

Prevalence of FVL in VTE patients (%)2 20 2.9 NA 0

Prevalence of FVL in fatal PE patients (%, controls)10

8.3 (6.0) 1.5 (1.0) 2.2 (2.0) 0

Prevalence of prothrombin 20210A mutation in general population2

2 0 NA 0

Prevalence of prothrombin mutation in VTE patients (%)2

6.2 1.1 NA 0

Prevalence of prothrombin mutation in fatal PE patients (%, controls)10

9.7 (2.5) 1.2 (0.5) 8.9 (0.5) 0

Age at death in fatal PE (median, IQR)10 58.0 (48.0–69.0) 49.5 (40.0–63.3) 47.5 (39.0–61.5) NA VTE indicates venous thromboembolism; FVL, factor V Leiden; PE, pulmonary embolism; NA, not available; and IQR, interquartile range.

*Per 100 000 per year.

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5. White RH, Zhou H, Murin S, Harvey D. Effect of ethnicity and gender on the incidence of venous thromboembolism in a diverse population in California.Thromb Haemost. 2005;93:298 –305.

6. Koster T, Vandenbroucke JP, Rosendaal FR, de Ronde H, Brie¨t E, Bertina RM. Venous thrombosis due to poor anticoagulant response to activated protein C: Leiden Thrombophilia Study.Lancet. 1993;342:1503–1506.

7. Margaglione M, Brancaccio V, Giuliani N, D’Andrea G, Cappucci G, Iannaccone L, Vecchione G, Grandone E, Di Minno G. Increased risk for venous thrombosis in carriers of the prothrombin G3A20210gene variant.

Ann Intern Med. 1998;129:89 –93.

8. Middeldorp S, Meinardi JR, Koopman MMW, van Pampus ECM, Hamulyak K, van der Meer J, Prins MH, Bu¨ller HR. A prospective study of asymp- tomatic carriers of the factor V Leiden mutation to determine the incidence of venous thromboembolism.Ann Intern Med. 2001;135:322–327.

9. Coppens M, van de Poel MH, Bank I, Hamulyak K, van der Meer J, Veeger VJ, Prins MH, Bu¨ller HR, Middeldorp S. A prospective cohort study on the absolute incidence of venous thromboembolism and arterial

cardiovascular disease in asymptomatic carriers of the prothrombin 20210A mutation.Blood. 2006;108:2604 –2607.

10. Tang Y, Sampson B, Pack S, Shah K, Um SY, Wang D, Wang T, Prinz M. Ethnic differences in out-of-hospital fatal pulmonary embolism.

Circulation. 2011;123:2219 –2225.

11. Bounameaux H. Factor V Leiden paradox: risk of deep vein thrombosis but not of pulmonary embolism.Lancet. 2000;356:182–183.

12. Douketis JD, Gu CS, Schulman S, Ghiarduzzi A, Pengo V, Prandoni P.

The risk of fatal pulmonary embolism after discontinuing anticoagulant therapy for venous thromboembolism. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:

766 –774.

13. US Department of Health and Human Services.The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism. 2008.

calltoaction/call-to-action-on-dvt-2008.pdf. Accessed March 15, 2011.

KEY WORDS: ethnic groupsmortalitypulmonary embolism

thrombophiliavenous thromboembolism

Bounameaux and Rosendaal Venous thromboembolism and ethnicity 2191




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