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Clin Evid (Online). 2008 Sep 29;2008. pii: 2201.

Postoperative pulmonary infections.

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  • 1South Texas Veterans Health care System and Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Texas Health Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, USA.



Postoperative pulmonary infections are associated with cough, phlegm, shortness of breath, chest pain, temperature above 38 degrees C, and pulse rate above 100 a minute. Up to half of people may have asymptomatic chest signs after surgery, and up to a quarter develop symptomatic disease. The main risk factor is the type of surgery, with higher risks associated with surgery to the chest, abdomen, and head and neck compared with other operations. Other risk factors include age over 50 years, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), smoking, hypoalbuminemia, and being functionally dependent.


We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical question: What are the effects of interventions to prevent postoperative pulmonary infections? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to May 2007 (BMJ Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically, please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).


We found 17 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.


In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: advice to stop smoking preoperatively, anaesthesia, lung expansion techniques, and postoperative nasogastric decompression.

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