Objective: To assess whether a test of stair climbing ability could be used to predict the risk of developing postoperative cardiopulmonary complications in patients undergoing general anesthesia.
Design: Cohort study.
Place and duration of study: The Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi. The duration of the study was from December 2003 to December 2004.
Patients and methods: This study was carried out on consecutive, adult patients presenting for elective thoracic or abdominal surgery under general anesthesia. Pre-operatively, patients were asked to climb a standard staircase. Number of steps climbed was recorded. Those unable to climb stairs due to debilitating cardiac, pulmonary or rheumatologic disease were categorized as 0 stairs climbed. Outcome variables were postoperative cardiopulmonary complications or mortality. Period of follow-up was until hospital discharge.
Results: Seventy-eight patients were enrolled, 59 (75.6%) climbed 1 flight of stairs, 19 (24.3%) climbed < 1 flight. All-cause cardiopulmonary complications rate was 26 %. The most frequent complication was lobar atelectasis, followed by bronchospasm and acute MI. The complication rate was 22.8% in those able to climb 1 flight and 40% in those patients who climbed < 1 flight. The group that climbed < 1 flight tended to have complications associated with poor reserves of the cardiopulmonary systems, i.e. pulmonary edema, exacerbation of underlying lung disease. The relative risk of developing complications, if unable to climb at least 1 flight of stairs, was calculated to be 1.8 (95% CI 0.7 - 4.6).
Conclusion: Stair climbing can be a useful pre-operative tool to predict the risk of postoperative cardiopulmonary complications.