Cardiac vagal dysfunction and myocardial injury after non-cardiac surgery: a planned secondary analysis of the measurement of Exercise Tolerance before surgery study

T E F Abbott, R M Pearse, B H Cuthbertson, D N Wijeysundera, G L Ackland
British Journal of Anaesthesia 2019, 122 (2): 188-197

BACKGROUND: The aetiology of perioperative myocardial injury is poorly understood and not clearly linked to pre-existing cardiovascular disease. We hypothesised that loss of cardioprotective vagal tone [defined by impaired heart rate recovery ≤12 beats min-1 (HRR ≤12) 1 min after cessation of preoperative cardiopulmonary exercise testing] was associated with perioperative myocardial injury.

METHODS: We conducted a pre-defined, secondary analysis of a multi-centre prospective cohort study of preoperative cardiopulmonary exercise testing. Participants were aged ≥40 yr undergoing non-cardiac surgery. The exposure was impaired HRR (HRR≤12). The primary outcome was postoperative myocardial injury, defined by serum troponin concentration within 72 h after surgery. The analysis accounted for established markers of cardiac risk [Revised Cardiac Risk Index (RCRI), N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT pro-BNP)].

RESULTS: A total of 1326 participants were included [mean age (standard deviation), 64 (10) yr], of whom 816 (61.5%) were male. HRR≤12 occurred in 548 patients (41.3%). Myocardial injury was more frequent amongst patients with HRR≤12 [85/548 (15.5%) vs HRR>12: 83/778 (10.7%); odds ratio (OR), 1.50 (1.08-2.08); P=0.016, adjusted for RCRI). HRR declined progressively in patients with increasing numbers of RCRI factors. Patients with ≥3 RCRI factors were more likely to have HRR≤12 [26/36 (72.2%) vs 0 factors: 167/419 (39.9%); OR, 3.92 (1.84-8.34); P<0.001]. NT pro-BNP greater than a standard prognostic threshold (>300 pg ml-1 ) was more frequent in patients with HRR≤12 [96/529 (18.1%) vs HRR>12 59/745 (7.9%); OR, 2.58 (1.82-3.64); P<0.001].

CONCLUSIONS: Impaired HRR is associated with an increased risk of perioperative cardiac injury. These data suggest a mechanistic role for cardiac vagal dysfunction in promoting perioperative myocardial injury.

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