Association Between Preoperative Metformin Exposure and Postoperative Outcomes in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes

JAMA Surg. 2020 Jun 1;155(6):e200416. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2020.0416. Epub 2020 Jun 17.


Importance: Adults with comorbidity have less physiological reserve and an increased rate of postoperative mortality and readmission after the stress of a major surgical intervention.

Objective: To assess postoperative mortality and readmission among individuals with diabetes with or without preoperative prescriptions for metformin.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study obtained data from the electronic health record of a multicenter, single health care system in Pennsylvania. Included were adults with diabetes who underwent a major operation with hospital admission from January 1, 2010, to January 1, 2016, at 15 community and academic hospitals within the system. Individuals without a clinical indication for metformin therapy were excluded. Follow-up continued until December 18, 2018.

Exposures: Preoperative metformin exposure was defined as 1 or more prescriptions for metformin in the 180 days before the surgical procedure.

Main outcomes and measures: All-cause postoperative mortality, hospital readmission within 90 days of discharge, and preoperative inflammation measured by the neutrophil to leukocyte ratio were compared between those with and without preoperative prescriptions for metformin. The corresponding absolute risk reduction (ARR) and adjusted hazard ratio (HR) with 95% CI were calculated in a propensity score-matched cohort.

Results: Among the 10 088 individuals with diabetes who underwent a major surgical intervention, 5962 (59%) had preoperative metformin prescriptions. A total of 5460 patients were propensity score-matched, among whom the mean (SD) age was 67.7 (12.2) years, and 2866 (53%) were women. In the propensity score-matched cohort, preoperative metformin prescriptions were associated with a reduced hazard for 90-day mortality (adjusted HR, 0.72 [95% CI, 0.55-0.95]; ARR, 1.28% [95% CI, 0.26-2.31]) and hazard of readmission, with mortality as a competing risk at both 30 days (ARR, 2.09% [95% CI, 0.35-3.82]; sub-HR, 0.84 [95% CI, 0.72-0.98]) and 90 days (ARR, 2.78% [95% CI, 0.62-4.95]; sub-HR, 0.86 [95% CI, 0.77-0.97]). Preoperative inflammation was reduced in those with metformin prescriptions compared with those without (mean neutrophil to leukocyte ratio, 4.5 [95% CI, 4.3-4.6] vs 5.0 [95% CI, 4.8-5.3]; P < .001). E-value analysis suggested robustness to unmeasured confounding.

Conclusions and relevance: This study found an association between metformin prescriptions provided to individuals with type 2 diabetes before a major surgical procedure and reduced risk-adjusted mortality and readmission after the operation. This association warrants further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Metformin / pharmacology
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Postoperative Complications / mortality*
  • Preoperative Period
  • Risk Assessment
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin