Perioperative hypoxemia is common with horizontal positioning during general anesthesia and is associated with major adverse outcomes: a retrospective study of consecutive patients

BMC Anesthesiol. 2014 Jun 9:14:43. doi: 10.1186/1471-2253-14-43. eCollection 2014.


Background: Reported perioperative pulmonary aspiration (POPA) rates have substantial variation. Perioperative hypoxemia (POH), a manifestation of POPA, has been infrequently studied beyond the PACU, for patients undergoing a diverse array of surgical procedures.

Methods: Consecutive adult patients with ASA I-IV and pre-operative pulmonary stability who underwent a surgical procedure requiring general anesthesia were investigated. Using pulse oximetry, POH was documented in the operating room and during the 48 hours following PACU discharge. POPA was the presence of an acute pulmonary infiltrate with POH.

Results: The 500 consecutive, eligible patients had operative body-positions of prone 13%, decubitus 8%, sitting 1%, and supine/lithotomy 78%, with standard practice of horizontal recumbency. POH was found in 150 (30%) patients. Post-operative stay with POH was 3.7 ± 4.7 days and without POH was 1.7 ± 2.3 days (p < 0.0001). POH rate varied from 14% to 58% among 11 of 12 operative procedure-categories. Conditions independently associated with POH (p < 0.05) were acute trauma, BMI, ASA level, glycopyrrolate administration, and duration of surgery. POPA occurred in 24 (4.8%) patients with higher mortality (8.3%), when compared to no POPA (0.2%; p = 0.0065). Post-operative stay was greater with POPA (7.7 ± 5.7 days), when compared to no POPA (2.0 ± 2.9 days; p = 0.0001). Conditions independently associated with POPA (p < 0.05) were cranial procedure, ASA level, and duration of surgery. POPA, acute trauma, duration of surgery, and inability to extubate in the OR were independently associated with post-operative stay (p < 0.05). POH, gastric dysmotility, acute trauma, cranial procedure, emergency procedure, and duration of surgery had independent correlations with post-operative length of stay (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Adult surgical patients undergoing general anesthesia with horizontal recumbency have substantial POH and POPA rates. Hospital mortality was greater with POPA and post-operative stay was increased for POH and POPA. POH rates were noteworthy for virtually all categories of operative procedures and POH and POPA were independent predictors of post-operative length of stay. A study is needed to determine if modest reverse-Trendelenburg positioning during general anesthesia has a relationship with reduced POH and POPA rates.

Keywords: Aspiration; Hypoxemia; Operating rooms; Period; Perioperative; Respiratory; Supine position.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anesthesia, General / methods*
  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / epidemiology*
  • Hypoxia / etiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / etiology
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oximetry
  • Patient Positioning*
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies