Preoperative Albumin, Transferrin, and Total Lymphocyte Count as Risk Markers for Postoperative Complications After Total Joint Arthroplasty: A Systematic Review

J Am Acad Orthop Surg Glob Res Rev. 2020 Sep;4(9):e19.00057. doi: 10.5435/JAAOSGlobal-D-19-00057.


Introduction: The purpose of this systematic review is to identify whether poor nutrition, as defined by the more commonly used markers of low albumin, low transferrin, or low total lymphocyte count (TLC), leads to more postoperative complications. We hypothesized that it may be possible to identify the levels of these laboratory values at which point total joint arthroplasty (TJA) may be ill advised. To this end, we analyzed the available literature regarding links between these three variables on postoperative complications after TJA.

Methods: This systematic review was done in two parts: (1) In the first part, we reviewed the most commonly used malnutrition marker, albumin. (2) In the second part, we reviewed TLC and transferrin. We accessed PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane Library using relevant keywords to this study. The biostatistics were visualized using a random-effects forest plot. We compared data from all articles with sufficient data on patients with complications (ie, cases) and patients without complications (ie, noncases) among the two groups, malnourished and normal nutrition, from albumin, transferrin, and TLC data.

Results: A meta-analysis of seven large-scale articles detailing the complications of albumin led to an all-cause relative risk increase of 1.93 when operating with hypoalbuminemia. This means that in the studies detailed enough to incorporate in this pooled analysis, operating on elective TJAs with low albumin is associated with a 93% increase in all measured complications. In the largest studies, analysis of transferrin levels for the most common complications revealed a relative risk increase of 2.52 when operating on patients with low transferrin levels. There were not enough subjects to do a biostatistical analysis in articles using TLC as the definition of malnutrition.

Conclusion: The focus is on the trends rather than absolutes. As shown in Table 1, whether the albumin cutoff for albumin was 3.0 g/dL, 3.5 g/dL, or 3.9 g/dL, the trend remains the same. Because low albumin before TJAs tends to increase complications, it is recommended to incorporate albumin levels in preoperative workups. Many patients with hip and knee arthritis undergo months of conservative management (eg, physical therapy and corticosteroid injections) before considering surgery, and it would be wise to optimize their nutritional status in this period to minimize the risk of perioperative complications. The physician should use these data to provide informed consent of the increased risk to patients planning to undergo TJAs with elevated malnutrition markers. Because this research is retrospective in nature, albumin should be studied prospectively in hypoalbuminemic and normoalbuminemic patients and their postoperative outcomes should be measured. Regarding transferrin and TLC, future research should help elucidate their predictive value and determine the value of preoperatively optimizing them and their effect in mitigating postoperative complications.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Serum Albumin / analysis
  • Transferrin*


  • Serum Albumin
  • Transferrin