Frailty in surgical patients

Int J Colorectal Dis. 2018 Dec;33(12):1657-1666. doi: 10.1007/s00384-018-3163-y. Epub 2018 Sep 14.


Objective: To describe the current definitions, aetiology, assessment tools and clinical implications of frailty in modern surgical practice.

Background: Frailty is a critical issue in modern surgical practice due to its association with adverse health events and poor post-operative outcomes. The global population is rapidly ageing resulting in more older patients presenting for surgery. With this, the number of frail patients presenting for surgery is also increasing. Despite the identification of frailty as a significant predictor of poor health outcomes, there is currently no consensus on how to define, measure and diagnose this important syndrome.

Methods: Relevant references were identified through keyword searches of the Cochran, MEDLINE and EMbase databases.

Results: Despite the lack of a gold standard operational definition, frailty can be conceptualised as a state of increased vulnerability resulting from a decline in physiological reserve and function across multiple organ systems, such that the ability to withstand stressors is impaired. Multiple studies have shown a strong association between frailty and adverse peri-operative outcomes. Frailty may be assessed using multiple tools; however, the ideal tool for use in a clinical setting has yet to be identified. Despite the association between frailty and adverse outcomes, few interventions have been shown to improve outcomes in these patients.

Conclusion: Frailty encompasses a group of individuals at high risk of adverse post-operative outcomes. Further work exploring ways to optimally assess and target interventions towards these patients should be the focus of ongoing research.

Keywords: Elderly; Frailty; Post-operative outcomes; Surgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Frailty / complications
  • Frailty / diagnosis*
  • Frailty / physiopathology
  • Frailty / psychology
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Selection
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surgical Clearance
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*
  • Treatment Outcome