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Curr Opin Crit Care. 2009 Aug;15(4):342-8. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0b013e32832e0669.

Respiratory complications after major surgery.

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Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, San Giovanni Battista Hospital, Torino 10126, Italy.



To discuss the recent literature concerning the significance of respiratory complications as a determining factor in postoperative complications after major surgery. Although many studies have identified risk factors focusing on the prevention of respiratory complications, these complications continue to be a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. Here, we will examine the diagnosis, contributing factors, consequences, and early treatment of respiratory complications.


General anesthesia and surgery are the main causes of postoperative respiratory complications. Atelectasis, a common respiratory complication, may contribute to pneumonia and acute respiratory failure. Recently, it has been shown that activation of abdominal muscles during the induction of anesthesia contributes to a reduction of lung capacity, leading to a higher degree of atelectasis. Additionally, long-term mortality at 5 and 10 years has recently been shown to remain significantly increased in patients with respiratory complications. Prevention or early therapy of respiratory complications may, therefore, be beneficial in improving outcome in postoperative patients.


Postoperative respiratory complications may have significant deleterious consequences. Increasing the understanding of the underlying causes of respiratory complications and developing early treatment strategies will likely provide improved benefits. To date, early treatment with prophylactic or therapeutic continuous positive airway pressure has proved beneficial in an abdominal surgical patient population; however, the efficacy in a general population remains unclear.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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