Predicting postoperative pulmonary complications: Is it a real problem?
To identify predictors of postoperative pulmonary complications, a population of 278 patients, mainly hypertensive and diabetic patients undergoing elective general surgery was studied; 60% of the patients underwent abdominal surgery. Of the 278 patients, 6% had postoperative pulmonary complications: 3% had radiographic evidence of infiltrates or segmental atelectasis and 3% had clinical evidence of atelectasis. Among the two thirds of patients undergoing abdominal surgery, only patients with underlying asthma or chronic bronchitis were at increased risk. Generally, patients with better exercise tolerance by self-report, walking distance, or cardiovascular classification had lower rates. Pulmonary function tests did not help to delineate patients at higher risk of postoperative pulmonary complications. Simple clinical information provided as much data about the patients' risk as pulmonary function tests. Many of these complications occurred in patients who sustained other types of postoperative morbidity, suggesting that predicting and preventing postoperative cardiac morbidity may be the best approach to reducing postoperative pulmonary morbidity.