From Our 2012 Archives

Severely Obese Have More Complications With Spinal Surgery

THURSDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Morbidly obese patients who undergo spinal fusion surgery have nearly double the risk of developing complications and also face higher hospital costs, a new study says.

Spinal fusion surgery is an increasingly common operation for spinal pain. People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater are considered morbidly (severely) obese. They are generally 50 to 100 percent over their ideal body weight, or 100 pounds overweight. BMI is a calculation based on height and weight.

Stanford University researchers, led by Dr. P.S.A. Kalanithi, analyzed data on nearly 85,000 hospital admissions for spinal fusion in California between 2007 and 2008. Reporting May 15 in the journal Spine, they said 2 percent of the patients were morbidly obese.

The complication rate for morbidly obese patients was nearly 14 percent, compared with almost 7 percent for other patients. This means that morbidly obese patients had a 97 percent increased risk of complications, including those related to the lung, heart and kidney, and problems with wound healing, according to a journal news release.

The researchers also found that morbidly obese patients had higher hospital costs ($109,000 vs. $85,000) and longer hospital stays (4.8 days vs. 3.5 days).

The overall risk of death after spinal fusion surgery was low for all patients, but was somewhat higher for morbidly obese patients. However, the difference was significant for one type of spinal surgery called posterior lumbar (lower spine) fusion. The death rate for that procedure was 0.56 percent for morbidly obese patients and 0.16 percent for all other patients.

While surgeons and patients should be aware of the increased risks for morbidly obese patients, that does not mean that spinal fusion should not be performed in these patients when they require it, the researchers said.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Spine, news release, May 17, 2012