Preoperative care

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See also perioperative care

Preoperative care is defined as "Care given during the period prior to undergoing surgery when psychological and physical preparations are made according to the special needs of the individual patient. This period spans the time between admission to the hospital to the time the surgery begins."[1][2]

Components of preoperative care

Clinical prediction rules are available for predicting all cause mortality.[3][4]

Cardiac risk reduction

Clinical practice guidelines

Clinical practice guidelines are available that have been updated in 2014[5], 2009[6][7], 2007[8], and 2002[9]. Guidelines by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend (as summarized by Journal Watch:[10][11]

  • 'Noninvasive stress testing of patients with 3 or more clinical risk factors and poor functional capacity (less than 4 metabolic equivalents METs) who require vascular surgery is reasonable if it will change management"[8]
  • "Patients scheduled for low-risk noncardiac surgery should proceed to surgery."[10]
  • "Patients with good functional capacity should proceed to surgery."[10]
  • "Patients with poor or unknown functional capacity who are scheduled for non-low-risk surgery should be stratified according to the Revised Cardiac Risk Index[10] (Journal Watch Sep 17 1999). Patients with no risk factors should proceed to surgery. For those with one or more risk factors, clinicians are given the option of proceeding with surgery or performing noninvasive stress testing; the decision should be influenced by the type of noncardiac surgery (vascular vs. other), and by whether the clinician believes that noninvasive testing "will change management."
  • "For patients with risk factors, clinicians should consider perioperative ß-blockade."[10]
  • "The algorithm does not apply to patients who require emergency noncardiac surgery, or to patients with active cardiac problems." Active cardiac conditions are:[12]

Cardiac risk assessment

Self reported poor functional capacity, defined as inability to walk 4 blocks and climb 2 flights of stairs, increases the risk of cardiac complications in non-cardiac surgery from 5.2% to 9.6%.[13] The accuracy of this question is:

The accuracy of self reported poor functional capacity
  Sensitivity Specificity
Any serious complication 71% 47%
Serious cardiac complication 70% 45%
Revised Cardiac Risk Index
For more information, see: Revised Cardiac Risk Index.

The Revised Cardiac Risk Index (RCRI) can help estimate probability of cardiac complications.[14]

Eagle criteria

The Eagle criteria (Q waves, history of ventricular ectopic activity, diabetes, advanced age, angina) can help assess risk in combination with stress testing.[15] Eagle et al propose that stress testing is most appropriate for patients with one or two of the five criteria. Myocardial revascularization before vascular surgery may help patients with at least 3 Eagle criteria.[16]


Routine echocardiography for non-cardiac surgery may not be helpful.[17]

Stress testing

Dobutamine echocardiography stress testing may be the most sensitive non-invasive test.[18] Dobutamine echocardiography has been used to indicate patients who might benefit from perioperative beta-blockers.[19][20]

Cardiac risk by type of surgery
Cardiac risk stratification for noncardiac surgeries. See also Figure 1 of Lee et al.[21]
2007 ACC/AHA Guidelines
(from their Table 4[8])
2002 ACC/AHA Guidelines
(from their Table 3[9])
Boersma 2005[22] RCRI (1999)[21]
Vascular (reported cardiac risk often more than 5%):
• Aortic and other major vascular surgery
• Peripheral vascular surgery
High (Reported cardiac risk often greater than 5%):
• Emergent major operations, particularly in the elderly
• Aortic and other major vascular surgery
• Peripheral vascular surgery
• Anticipated prolonged surgical procedures associated with large fluid shifts and/or blood loss
• Aortic
• Intraperitoneal
• Intrathoracic
• Vascular surgery above the inguinal ligaments (excluding carotids and arms)
Intermediate (reported cardiac risk generally 1% to 5%):
• Intraperitoneal and intrathoracic surgery
• Carotid endarterectomy
• Head and neck surgery
• Orthopedic surgery
• Prostate surgery
Intermediate (Reported cardiac risk generally less than 5%):
• Carotid endarterectomy
• Head and neck surgery
• Intraperitoneal and intrathoracic surgery
• Orthopedic surgery
• Prostate surgery
Intermediate-high risk:
• abdominal
• ear, nose, throat
• neurologic
• pulmonary
• renal transplant
• vascular (excluding aortic and carotid)
Low-intermediate risk:
• orthopedic
• urologic
Low (reported cardiac risk generally less than 1%):
• Endoscopic procedures
• Superficial procedure
• Cataract surgery
• Breast surgery
• Ambulatory surgery
Low (Reported cardiac risk generally less than 1%):
• Endoscopic procedures
• Superficial procedure
• Cataract surgery
• Breast surgery
• breast
• carotid
• dental
• endocrine
• eye
• gynecology
• reconstructive
Brain natriuretic peptide

The brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) when elevated about levels ranging from 40 to 533, may help predict complications.[23]


Perioperative ß-blockade
See Evidence table

An update in 2009 of the 2007 ACC/AHA clinical practice guideline, also summarized in their Figure 1, recommends:[24]

  1. "Beta blockers should be continued in patients undergoing surgery who are receiving beta blockers for treatment of conditions with ACCF/AHA Class I guideline indications for the drugs."
  2. "Beta blockers titrated to heart rate and blood pressure are probably recommended for patients undergoing vascular surgery who are at high cardiac risk owing to coronary artery disease or the finding of cardiac ischemia on preoperative testing"
  3. Beta blockers titrated to heart rate and blood pressure are reasonable for patients in whom preoperative assessment for vascular surgery identifies high cardiac risk, as defined by the presence of more than 1 clinical risk factor."
  • "Beta blockers titrated to heart rate and blood pressure are reasonable for patients in whom preoperative assessment identifies coronary artery disease or high cardiac risk, as defined by the presence of more than 1 clinical risk factor,* who are undergoing intermediate-risk surgery"

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that beta-blockers may cause a decrease in myocardial ischemia (number needed to treat = 16) with a lesser increase in non-fatal strokes (number needed to harm [NNH] = 293).[25] This meta-analysis found significant benefit on overall mortality for patients at high surgical risk (see yellow box for definition of risk categories) but there was no relationship to medical risk categories. The meta-analysis did not regress outcome by mortality in the control groups.

Subsequent studies concluded that adrenergic beta-antagonists if used chronically[26] or started with adequate time before surgery[27][28] and that chronic adrenergic beta-antagonists may be better than episodic adrenergic beta-antagonists[26].

Atenolol may be more effective than metoprolol according to non-randomized studies[29][30] and a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials[28].

POISE trial

The largest trial in the meta-analysis was the POISE trial.[31][32] Most participants underwent vascular (42%), intraabdominal (23%), or orthopedic (19%) surgery."

Comparison of POISE risk factors and Revised Cardiac Risk Index
  POISE Revised Cardiac Risk Index
Risk factors in common • undergoing intrathoracic or intraperitoneal surgery
• heart failure
• transient ischaemic attack
• diabetes mellitus
• serum creatinine > 175 μmol/L (2.0 mg/dL)
• high-risk surgery (intraperitoneal, intrathoracic, or vascular surgery above the inguinal ligaments)
• heart failure
• cerebrovascular disease
• preoperative treatment with insulin
• preoperative serum creatinine > 175 μmol/L (2.0 mg/dL)
Unique factors • age >70 years
• undergoing emergent or urgent surgery
• ischemic heart disease

The study drug was controlled-release metoprolol:[31]

"Administration of the study drug at each dosing time, except during the first 6 hours after surgery, requires a patient to have a heart rate ≥50 beats/min and a systolic blood pressure (SBP) ≥100 mm Hg."
"Two to 4 hours before surgery, patients will take 100 mg (ie, half a tablet) of the study drug orally. If the patient heart rate is >80 beats/min and their SBP is ≥100 mm Hg during the first 6 hours after surgery, they will take 100 mg of the study drug orally. Patients who do not receive a dose of the study drug during the first 6 hours after surgery will take 100 mg of the study drug orally at 6 hours after surgery. Starting 12 hours after patients receive their first postoperative study drug dose and daily thereafter for 30 days, they will take 200 mg of the study drug orally. If the patients' heart rate is consistently <45 beats/min or their SBP is <100 mm Hg, caregivers will hold the study drug until the patients' heart rate or SBP recovers and will then administer 100 mg of the study drug orally. If the patients' heart rate is consistently between 45 and 49 beats/min and their SBP is >100 mm Hg, they will delay taking the study drug for 12 hours."
"Patients who are unable to take medications orally will receive the study drug by slow or rapid intravenous infusion every 6 hours until they are able to receive the study drug orally. The slow intravenous infusion consists of 15 mg of the study drug in 25 mL of normal saline infused over a 60-minute period, and patients will have their heart rate and blood pressure checked 10, 30, and 60 minutes after starting the infusion. If the patients' heart rate is <50 beats/min or their SBP is <100 mm Hg, the infusion is stopped and subsequent infusions will consist of 10 mg of the study drug in 25 mL of normal saline infused over a 60-minute period."
"The rapid intravenous infusion will consist of 5 mg of the study drug infused over 2 minutes. Patients will receive the rapid intravenous infusion every 5 minutes, for a total of 15 mg, as long as their vital signs fulfill the standard heart rate and SBP requirements before each dosing."
POISE results at 30 days[32]
  primary composite endpoint:
(CV death, nonfatal MI, nonfatal cardiac arrest)
Total mortality
hazard ratio: 0.83, P=0.04 hazard ratio: 1.33, P=0.03
Metoprolol 5.8% 3.1%
Placebo 6.9% 2.3%

Subgroup analyses showed significant benefit from metoprolol among patients:

  • Undergoing undergoing vascular surgery
  • With 2 or more of 7 clinical risk factors (see table of risk factors)

These results suggest that the benefits on the primary outcome were outweighed by adverse effects; however, the POISE trial was unique in using metoprolol in an anglo population although 3-10% of anglos are poor metabolizers of drugs such as metopolol that use the CYP2D6 isoenzyme.[33] This affects many antidepressants, metoprolol and other drugs that use this isoenzyme. More information is available at Entrez Gene.[34]

MSPI trial

In the The Multicenter Study of Perioperative Ischemia Research Group (MSPI)[35][36], the patients were similar to the POISE study in that about 40% had vascular surgery. The intervention was 50-100 mg of atenolol per day starting on the first postoperative day and continuing for up to 7 days. However, at 6 months there was a trend for more atenolol patients to still be taking beta-blockers (13.8% versus 8.8%).

In the MSPI, atenolol reduced perioperative ischemia.[36]

Regarding mortality, the MSPI study focused its results on mortality at 6 months to two years. In order to compare to the POISE trial, the hospital death rate in the MSPI study was:[35]

  • Atenolol 4% (4/99)
  • Placebo 2% (2/101)

The DECREASE study found benefit by starting bisoprolol 5-10 mg per day at least one week prior to vascular surgery.[19]

Other large trials

Other large randomized controlled trials using bisoprolol[37], and esmolol as a single bolus before intubation[38] have been published and were included in the meta-analysis of Banglore[25]. All patients in these trials were lower risk as manifested in the low risk of complications in the placebo group. No patient died in either study.

Cohort studies

Several cohort studies support the use of adrenergic beta-antagonists[39][40][41][42], at least if either heart failure or recent coronary events are present.[43]

Hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibitors (Statins)

"Perioperative statin treatment in statin-naive patients reduces atrial fibrillation, myocardial infarction, and duration of hospital stay" according to a meta-analysis. [44]

Hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibitors (Statins) before surgery[45][46]
Trial Patients Intervention Outcome Result
Intervention Control
1066 patients with RCRI ≥ 2 Fluvastatin starting a median of 34 days preoperatively total mortality within 30 days 4.1% 7.8%
497 patients undergoing vascular surgery Fluvastatin starting a median of 37 days preoperatively total mortality within 30 days 2.4% 4.9%
†. P < 0.05 (neither study was significant).
Timing surgery after recent coronary stents

"Noncardiac surgery should be delayed until at least 30 days (and perhaps even 90 days) after placement of bare-metal coronary stents and 1 year after placement of drug-eluting stents."[47][48]

Myocardial revascularization

Options for myocardial revascularization include coronary artery bypass and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty. If revascularization is done, the choice of procedure is guided by whether indications exist for coronary artery bypass, and the risk of bleeding with platelet aggregation inhibitors. For patients who need percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty yet are at risk of bleeding with platelet aggregation inhibitors, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend:[8]

  • Surgery need within 14-29 days, use balloon angioplasty
  • Surgery need within 30-365 days, use bare metal stents
  • Surgery need within more than 365 days, use drug eluting stents
Indications according to practice guidelines

Clinical practice guidelines by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend:[8]

  • "Coronary revascularization before noncardiac surgery is useful in patients with stable angina who have significant left main coronary artery stenosis. (Level of Evidence: A)"
  • "Coronary revascularization before noncardiac surgery is useful in patients with stable angina who have 3-vessel disease. (Survival benefit is greater when left ventricular ejection fraction is less than 0.50.) (Level of Evidence: A)"
  • "Coronary revascularization before noncardiac surgery is useful in patients with stable angina who have 2-vessel disease with significant proximal left anterior descending stenosis and either ejection fraction less than 0.50 or demonstrable ischemia on noninvasive testing. (Level of Evidence: A)"
  • "Coronary revascularization before noncardiac surgery is recommended for patients with high-risk unstable angina or non–ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (MI). (Level of Evidence: A)" (NSTEMI)
  • "Coronary revascularization before noncardiac surgery is recommended in patients with acute ST-elevation MI. (Level of Evidence: A)"
  • "In patients in whom coronary revascularization with percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) is appropriate for mitigation of cardiac symptoms and who need elective noncardiac surgery in the subsequent 12 months, a strategy of balloon angioplasty or bare-metal stent placement followed by 4 to 6 weeks of dual-antiplatelet therapy is probably indicated. (Level of Evidence: B)"
  • "In patients who have received drug-eluting coronary stents and who must undergo urgent surgical procedures that mandate the discontinuation of thienopyridine therapy, it is reasonable to continue aspirin if at all possible and restart the thienopyridine as soon as possible. (Level of Evidence: C)"
  • "The usefulness of preoperative coronary revascularization is not well established in high-risk ischemic patients (eg, abnormal dobutamine stress echocardiogram with at least 5 segments of wall-motion abnormalities). (Level of Evidence: C)"
  • "The usefulness of preoperative coronary revascularization is not well established for low-risk ischemic patients with an abnormal dobutamine stress echocardiogram (segments 1 to 4). (Level of Evidence: B)"
Myocardial revascularization before vascular surgery[49][16][50]
Trial Patients Intervention Outcome Result
Intervention Control
Monaco et al[49]
208 patients:
• RCRI ≥ 2
• Aortic surgery (aortoiliac or AAA)
Routine coronary angiography In-hospital events and events after 5 years No improvement during hospitalization, but improvement after 5 years.
DECREASE-V Pilot Study[50]
101 patients:
• Major vasclar surgery
• Extensive ischemia during stress testing
• PTCA: 65% (61% used drug eluting stent
• CABG: 41%
all cause death or myocardial infarction within 30 days 35% 33%
510 patients
• Major vasclar surgery
• PTCA: 59% (unknown if stents used)
• CABG: 43%
myocardial infarction within 30 days 12% 14%

Two randomized controlled trials address myocardial revascularization before noncardiac surgery.[50][16] However, both were performed prior to the ACC/AHA 2007 Guidelines and do not reflect current standards.[8]

  1. The Coronary Artery Revascularization Prophylaxis (CARP) trial was associated with a statistically insignificant 2% absolute reduction in perioperative myocardial infarction among patients undergoing major vascular surgery.[16] The benefit, while still statistically insignificant, was greater for high risk patients as defined by at least three Eagle criteria with large defect on stress test. The CARP trial did not report what proportion of their patients receiving percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty received stents. The stents that were used were probably not drug eluting as sirolimus eluting stents were first approved in the United States in 2003.[51]
  2. The DECREASE-V Pilot Study reported a trend towards increased complications with myocardial revascularization; however, this trial used drug eluting stents for severe coronary disease prior to non-cardiac surgery.[50]

Stroke risk reduction

Ccombined carotid and cardiac operations may not reduce the risk of stroke in patients with carotid stenosis.[52]

Pulmonary risk reduction

Clinical prediction rules are available for predicting respiratory failure (postoperative-respiratory-failure-risk-calculator[53])(see Table 6 for predictors and Table 7 for interpretation)[54] and pneumonia[55] (see Table 4 for predictors and Table 5 for interpretation) after surgery. A more complicated, updated version of the respiratory failure rule is available.[56]

Additional clinical prediction rules have been developed.[57][53]

Clinical practice guidelines by the American College of Physicians state:[58][59]

  1. "All patients undergoing noncardiothoracic surgery should be evaluated for the presence of the following significant risk factors for postoperative pulmonary complications in order to receive pre- and postoperative interventions to reduce pulmonary risk: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, age older than 60 years, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) class of II or greater, functionally dependent, and congestive heart failure."
  2. "Patients undergoing the following procedures are at higher risk for postoperative pulmonary complications and should be evaluated for other concomitant risk factors and receive pre- and postoperative interventions to reduce pulmonary complications: prolonged surgery (>3 hours), abdominal surgery, thoracic surgery, neurosurgery, head and neck surgery, vascular surgery, aortic aneurysm repair, emergency surgery, and general anesthesia."
  3. "A low serum albumin level (<35 g/L) is a powerful marker of increased risk for postoperative pulmonary complications and should be measured in all patients who are clinically suspected of having hypoalbuminemia; measurement should be considered in patients with 1 or more risk factors for perioperative pulmonary complications."
  4. "All patients who after preoperative evaluation are found to be at higher risk for postoperative pulmonary complications should receive the following postoperative procedures in order to reduce postoperative pulmonary complications: 1) deep breathing exercises or incentive spirometry and 2) selective use of a nasogastric tube (as needed for postoperative nausea or vomiting, inability to tolerate oral intake, or symptomatic abdominal distention)."
  5. "Preoperative spirometry and chest radiography should not be used routinely for predicting risk for postoperative pulmonary complications."
  6. "The following procedures should not be used solely for reducing postoperative pulmonary complication risk: 1) right-heart catheterization and 2) total parenteral nutrition or total enteral nutrition (for patients who are malnourished or have low serum albumin levels)."

For patients with asthma, more aggressive clinical practice guidelines by the U.S. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program recommend:[60]

  • "Patients who have asthma should have an evaluation before surgery that includes a review of symptoms, medication use (particularly the use of oral systemic corticosteroids for longer than 2 weeks in the past 6 months), and measurement of pulmonary function".
  • "If possible, attempts should be made to improve lung function preoperatively (FEV1 or peak expiratory flow rate [PEFR]) to either their predicted values or their personal best level. A short course of oral systemic corticosteroids may be necessary to optimize lung function".

Smoking cessation may reduce pulmonary complications according to the results of a randomized controlled trial.[61]

Incentive spirometry does not clearly help reduce pulmonary complications during the perioperative care after coronary artery bypass grafting according to a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by the Cochrane Collaboration. [62]

Higher mean first hour peak airway pressure may predict acute lung injury.[63]

Hepatic risk reduction

The MELD Score > 8 can help predict complications of surgery among patients with cirrhosis.[64] The MELD Score may [65] or may not[66] perform better than the Child-Turcotte-Pugh class. The iMELD score may be best of all with increased mortality occurring with an iMELD ≥ 35.[67]


An abnormal hemoglobin level is associated with perioperative complications.[68]The amount of fall in hemoglobin may be more important that the absolute level.[69]

Transfusion likely does not help anemia when the hemoglobin is over 8 g/dL.[70][71][72]


The prothrombin time (PT) and partial thromboplastin time (PTT) do not well predict bleeding complications as an abnormal value may be due to the antiphospholipid syndrome.[73][74]

Chronic anticoagulation

Details have been provided by the American College of Chest Physicians at The Perioperative Management of Antithrombotic Therapy.

This topic has been reviewed.[75]

A systematic review found anticoagulation with warfarin does not need interruption during minor procedures.[76]

For procedures that need discontinuation of anticoagulation, a cohort study that found that interruption for 5 days or less was generally safe.[77]

Among patients taking anticoagulants, dabigatran and warfarin were associated with similar rates of bleeding; however abigatran allowed a shorter interruption of oral anticoagulation.[78]

For patients needing a bridge, low molecular weight heparin is preferable to intravenous infusion of unfractionated heparin.[79] For patients needing a low molecular weight heparin bridge, a protocol is available.[80] However, bridging with low molecular weight heparin increases bleeding as compared to no bridging.[81]


For more information, see: Delirium.

Deep venous thrombosis prevention

See Deep venous thrombosis#Surgery_Patients and American College of Chest Physicians clinical practice guidelines


The benefit in seeking for and treating asymptomatic bacteruria prior to arthroplasty is not proven.[82][83]


The management of obese patients has been reviewed.[84]

Benefits of preoperative medical consultation

The benefits of internal medicine consultation are not clear in an observational study[85]; whereas a pseudorandomized trial found benefit from a hospitalist consultation[86] and a non-randomized trial using historical controls found benefit from geriatrics consultation[87].

Unnecessary delays in surgery is associated with increased operative risk.[88]

Preoperative methods for surgical risk reduction

A wide range of methods for avoiding surgical errors, either in the operating room or shortly before surgery, are increasingly in use. One method, long used by the choice of individual surgeons, is becoming more of a standard: when, for example, a procedure could be prepared on either the left or right extremity, the surgeon, or even the patient, may write, with an indelible pen, "cut here" on the appropriate site and "do not cut here" on the contralateral extremity, signing both.

Drawing from aviation methods of risk reduction, there are specific points, such as the induction of anesthesia or the entry into a body cavity, when the team stops and goes through a specific checklist of physiological parameters, equipment readiness, etc. In the discipline of crew resource management, one team member is specifically tasked to ask each structured question, and another member to check the matter and give the answer.

See also


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