Obesity Can Complicate Lumbar Fusion Surgery

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: November 19, 2015

spine surgery and obesity

We know that obesity can lead to a host of health problems, but new research out of Cooper University suggests that it can also increase a person’s risk of complications during lumbar surgery.

Considering the fact that upwards of 90 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their life, and the fact that obesity rates continue to climb, it’s no surprise that doctors are seeing more overweight patients on their operating tables. So not only is obesity contributing to increased lower back problems, it’s also making for risky operations.

Lumbar Spine Study

The study, completed by Mark Rivkin, DO, of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cooper University, examined how BMI and lumbar surgery complications were related. Patients in the study were at least 18 years old, undergoing elective lumbar surgery to address some degenerative pathology, and had no history of area infection, trauma or tumor. Researchers tracked a myriad of factors, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • BMI
  • Surgical site location
  • Estimated blood loss
  • Procedure duration
  • Length of post-op hospital stay

In total, researchers tracked adverse events in 38 obese patients and 39 non-obese patients. After looking at the compiled data, researchers uncovered that 19 of the 39 obese patients had at least one complication during or after surgery, while only 10 out of 38 non-obese patients suffered the same. Obese patients were also more likely to experience more than one adverse event.

“There was also a significant difference in the rate of total complications between the two groups with 13 adverse events in the non-obese and 28 events in the obese,” researchers wrote.

Researchers concluded that obesity shouldn’t deter a person from undergoing elective back surgery if they are experiencing pain, but they did put forth some recommendations for obese patients and their doctors. First, patients should strive to get to a healthy BMI prior to surgery, they should talk to their doctor about the possible complications before, during and after surgery, and doctors should take extra care to prevent adverse events when performing a lumbar operation on an obese patient.

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