If the observed dramatic increase in VTE incidence with advancing age is due to increased VTE risk factor exposure (i.e., secondary VTE), the incidence of idiopathic VTE should not vary with age or calendar year.

Objective: To estimate the incidence of idiopathic and secondary VTE by age and by calendar year.

Methods: Using the resources of the Rochester Epidemiology Project, we identified the inception cohort of Olmsted County, MN, residents with a first lifetime VTE during the 30-year period, 1966–1995 (n=2761). For each case, we reviewed the complete medical records in the community for 48 baseline clinical characteristics that are commonly-accepted risk factors for VTE. We categorized VTE cases as idiopathic (n=305) if no such characteristics were present; the remaining cases were categorized as secondary. Age- and sex-specific incidence rates were calculated using idiopathic or secondary VTE cases as the numerator, and age-, sex- and calendar year-specific estimates of the population of Olmsted County as the denominator.

Results: The incidence of both idiopathic and secondary VTE increased exponentially with age for both men and women (p<0.001). Over the 30-year study period, the age-adjusted incidence of idiopathic VTE was essentially constant among men (from 19.0 to 17.1 per 100,000 men-years for 1966–70 and 1990–95, respectively), but decreased markedly among women (from 18.5 to 3.6 per 100,000 woman-years for 1966–70 and 1990–95, respectively; p=0.005 for the interaction).

Conclusions: The dramatic increase in VTE incidence with age likely reflects the biology of aging, although as yet unidentified VTE risk factors cannot be excluded. The reason for the decreased incidence of idiopathic VTE over the last 30 years among women is unclear.

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