Background: Controversy exists as to the risk for postoperative apnea in former preterm infants. The conclusions of published studies are limited by the small number of patients.
Methods: The original data from eight prospective studies were subject to a combined analysis. Only patients having inguinal herniorrhaphy under general anesthesia were included; patients receiving caffeine, regional anesthesia, or undergoing other surgical procedures were excluded. A uniform definition for apnea was used for all patients. Eleven risk factors were examined: gestational age, postconceptual age, birth weight, history of respiratory distress syndrome, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, neonatal apnea, necrotizing enterocolitis, ongoing apnea, anemia, and use of opioids or nondepolarizing muscle relaxants.
Results: Two hundred fifty-five of 384 patients from eight studies at four institutions fulfilled study criteria. There was significant variation in apnea rates and the location of apnea (recovery room and postrecovery room) between institutions (P < 0.001). There was considerable variation in the duration and type of monitoring, definitions of apnea, and availability of historical information. The incidence of detected apnea was greater when continuous recording devices were used compared to standard impedance pneumography with alarms or nursing observations. Despite these limitations, it was determined that: (1) apnea was strongly and inversely related to both gestational age (P = 0.0005) and postconceptual age (P < 0.0001); (2) an associated risk factor was continuing apnea at home; (3) small-for-gestational-age infants seemed to be somewhat protected from apnea compared to appropriate- and large-for-gestational-age infants; (4) anemia was a significant risk factor, particularly for patients > 43 weeks' postconceptual age; (5) a relationship to apnea with history of necrotizing enterocolitis, neonatal apnea, respiratory distress syndrome, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or operative use of opioids and/or muscle relaxants could not be demonstrated.
Conclusions: The analysis suggests that, if it is assumed that the statistical models used are equally valid over the full range of ages considered and that the average rate of apnea reported across the studies analyzed is accurate and representative of actual rates in all institutions, the probability of apnea in nonanemic infants free of recovery-room apnea is not less than 5%, with 95% statistical confidence until postconceptual age was 48 weeks with gestational age 35 weeks. This risk is not less than 1%, with 95% statistical confidence, for that same subset of infants, until postconceptual age was 56 weeks with gestational age 32 weeks or postconceptual age was 54 weeks and gestational age 35 weeks. Older infants with apnea in the recovery room or anemia also should be admitted and monitored. The data do not allow prediction with confidence up to what age this precaution should continue to be taken for infants with anemia. The data were insufficient to allow recommendations regarding how long infants should be observed in recovery. There is additional uncertainty in the results due to the dramatically different rates of detected apnea in different institutions, which appear to be related to the use of different monitoring devices. Given the limitations of this combined analysis, each physician and institution must decide what is an acceptable risk for postoperative apnea.