Heart rate recovery and morbidity after noncardiac surgery: Planned secondary analysis of two prospective, multi-centre, blinded observational studies

Gareth L Ackland, Tom E F Abbott, Gary Minto, Martin Clark, Thomas Owen, Pradeep Prabhu, Shaun M May, Joseph A Reynolds, Brian H Cuthbertson, Duminda Wijesundera, Rupert M Pearse
PloS One 2019, 14 (8): e0221277

BACKGROUND: Impaired cardiac vagal function, quantified preoperatively as slower heart rate recovery (HRR) after exercise, is independently associated with perioperative myocardial injury. Parasympathetic (vagal) dysfunction may also promote (extra-cardiac) multi-organ dysfunction, although perioperative data are lacking. Assuming that cardiac vagal activity, and therefore heart rate recovery response, is a marker of brainstem parasympathetic dysfunction, we hypothesized that impaired HRR would be associated with a higher incidence of morbidity after noncardiac surgery.

METHODS: In two prospective, blinded, observational cohort studies, we established the definition of impaired vagal function in terms of the HRR threshold that is associated with perioperative myocardial injury (HRR ≤ 12 beats min-1 (bpm), 60 seconds after cessation of cardiopulmonary exercise testing. The primary outcome of this secondary analysis was all-cause morbidity three and five days after surgery, defined using the Post-Operative Morbidity Survey. Secondary outcomes of this analysis were type of morbidity and time to become morbidity-free. Logistic regression and Cox regression tested for the association between HRR and morbidity. Results are presented as odds/hazard ratios [OR or HR; (95% confidence intervals).

RESULTS: 882/1941 (45.4%) patients had HRR≤12bpm. All-cause morbidity within 5 days of surgery was more common in 585/822 (71.2%) patients with HRR≤12bpm, compared to 718/1119 (64.2%) patients with HRR>12bpm (OR:1.38 (1.14-1.67); p = 0.001). HRR≤12bpm was associated with more frequent episodes of pulmonary (OR:1.31 (1.05-1.62);p = 0.02)), infective (OR:1.38 (1.10-1.72); p = 0.006), renal (OR:1.91 (1.30-2.79); p = 0.02)), cardiovascular (OR:1.39 (1.15-1.69); p<0.001)), neurological (OR:1.73 (1.11-2.70); p = 0.02)) and pain morbidity (OR:1.38 (1.14-1.68); p = 0.001) within 5 days of surgery.

CONCLUSIONS: Multi-organ dysfunction is more common in surgical patients with cardiac vagal dysfunction, defined as HRR ≤ 12 bpm after preoperative cardiopulmonary exercise testing.


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