Nondepolarizing Neuromuscular Blocking Agents, Reversal, and Risk of Postoperative Pneumonia

Anesthesiology. 2016 Oct;125(4):647-55. doi: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000001279.


Background: Residual postoperative paralysis from nondepolarizing neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs) is a known problem. This paralysis has been associated with impaired respiratory function, but the clinical significance remains unclear. The aims of this analysis were two-fold: (1) to investigate if intermediate-acting NMBA use during surgery is associated with postoperative pneumonia and (2) to investigate if nonreversal of NMBAs is associated with postoperative pneumonia.

Methods: Surgical cases (n = 13,100) from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center National Surgical Quality Improvement Program database who received general anesthesia were included. The authors compared 1,455 surgical cases who received an intermediate-acting nondepolarizing NMBA to 1,455 propensity score-matched cases who did not and 1,320 surgical cases who received an NMBA and reversal with neostigmine to 1,320 propensity score-matched cases who did not receive reversal. Postoperative pneumonia incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and bootstrapped 95% CIs were calculated.

Results: Patients receiving an NMBA had a higher absolute incidence rate of postoperative pneumonia (9.00 vs. 5.22 per 10,000 person-days at risk), and the IRR was statistically significant (1.79; 95% bootstrapped CI, 1.08 to 3.07). Among surgical cases who received an NMBA, cases who were not reversed were 2.26 times as likely to develop pneumonia after surgery compared to cases who received reversal with neostigmine (IRR, 2.26; 95% bootstrapped CI, 1.65 to 3.03).

Conclusions: Intraoperative use of intermediate nondepolarizing NMBAs is associated with developing pneumonia after surgery. Among patients who receive these agents, nonreversal is associated with an increased risk of postoperative pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neostigmine / administration & dosage*
  • Neuromuscular Blockade / adverse effects*
  • Neuromuscular Blockade / methods
  • Neuromuscular Nondepolarizing Agents / adverse effects*
  • Pneumonia
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Neuromuscular Nondepolarizing Agents
  • Neostigmine