COPD Patients at Higher Risk of Death 1 Year After Surgery

Marilynn Larkin

January 18, 2023

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more likely to die within a year of undergoing elective surgery and to incur higher healthcare costs than similar patients without COPD, data suggest.

An analysis of close to a million patient records found that, after adjustment for sociodemographic factors, procedure type, and comorbidities, patients with COPD were 26% more likely to die in the year after surgery than those without COPD. Moreover, COPD was associated with a 4.6% increase in healthcare costs.

Dr Ashwin Sankar

Previous studies have evaluated outcomes for the first 30 days after surgery. Those data "may not adequately capture the overall burden of surgery and how long it may take patients to recover," study author Ashwin Sankar, MD, a clinician-investigator at St. Michael's Hospital and assistant professor of anesthesia at the University of Toronto, told Medscape Medical News.

"We found that COPD often coexists with other conditions, like diabetes, coronary artery disease, and frailty," Sankar added. "We would suggest that clinicians use COPD as a flag for other conditions to ensure that all modifiable risk factors are optimized prior to surgery."

The study was published online January 17 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Additional Recovery Support

The authors analyzed data from 932,616 patients who underwent intermediate-risk to high-risk elective noncardiac surgeries from 2005 to 2019 in Ontario, Canada. Procedures included carotid endarterectomy, open or endovascular abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, peripheral arterial bypass, total hip replacement, total knee replacement, shoulder surgery, large-bowel surgery, partial liver resection, pancreaticoduodenectomy, gastrectomy, esophagectomy, nephrectomy, cystectomy, prostatectomy, and hysterectomy.

The researchers quantified the associations of COPD with survival and costs. Their analyses included partial adjustment for sociodemographic factors and procedure type and full adjustment, which included comorbidities.

The primary outcome was all-cause death in the year after surgery; the secondary outcome was total healthcare costs in that year.

The mean age of the population was 65 years, and 60% of patients were women. A total of 170,482 (18%) patients had COPD. Compared with those without COPD, the patients with COPD were older and were more likely to be male, to be in a lower income quintile, to be residents of long-term care facilities, and to have been admitted to the hospital before surgery. They were also more likely to have comorbidities, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and lung cancer.

A larger proportion of patients with COPD had frailty and medium to high comorbidity. They also more frequently underwent orthopedic, open upper abdominal, and vascular surgery.

During the year after surgery, 52,021 (5.6%) patients died, including 18,007 (10.6%) with COPD and 34,014 (4.5%) without. Those with COPD were more likely to die within 30 days of surgery (3.4% vs 1.2%).

For patients with COPD, the partially adjusted hazard ratio (HR) was 1.61 for risk of death; the fully adjusted HR was 1.26. COPD also was associated with a partially adjusted relative increase of 13.1% in healthcare costs and an increase of 4.6% with full adjustment.

Frailty, cancer, and procedure type were factors that modified the association between COPD and outcomes. "Procedures such as open aortic and upper abdominal surgery are associated with higher postoperative risks irrespective of COPD status, whereas others, such as orthopedic and lower abdominal surgery, may be of significantly greater risk for patients with COPD," the authors write. "Our results suggest that perioperative management of patients with COPD requires careful consideration of the multiple domains that contribute to their elevated perioperative risk."

"Our finding that patients with COPD are at risk beyond 30 days after surgery suggests that it may be worthwhile to additionally support these patients' recovery well beyond the first month after the procedure," said Sankar.

Shared Decision-Making

Commenting on the study for Medscape, William Whalen, MD, a pulmonary critical care specialist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, said, "I echo the authors' sentiments that these findings highlight how chronically ill COPD patients are, which may be playing a role in the elevated mortality seen in this study."

Dr William Whalen

One caveat is in regard to the interpretation of the interaction effects of the study, he said. "Clinicians are unlikely to send patients who are frail or have multiple comorbidities to overly complex surgeries. Therefore, these effects may be misestimated due to selection bias."

Two questions remain after reading the study, he added. "The first is how the degree of obstruction (ie, the severity of COPD) impacts long-term mortality. Previous observational studies in nonsurgical COPD patients have shown increased mortality as the severity of obstruction increases. The second is how much of the long-term mortality observed in this study is related to respiratory disease from COPD. Patients with COPD are complex, and many die from nonrespiratory-related causes."

Whalen suggests that discussion be held with the surgical team about the long-term morbidity and mortality with and without surgical intervention. Such a discussion could inform a shared decision-making process with the patient.

"Some procedures may be necessary to reduce immediate mortality, such as aortic aneurysmal repair, so [the risk of] longer-term mortality may be more acceptable in this setting," he said. "Less straightforward are procedures that may improve quality of life. Would a patient accept an increased long-term mortality [risk] if that meant living without orthopedic-related pain?"

The study was funded by the Government of Ontario. Sankar and Whalen have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

CMAJ. Published online January 17, 2023. Full text

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