SEATTLE (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Postponing surgery for acute ulcerative colitis more than a day increases postoperative complications, lengths of stay, and hospital costs, according to a review by Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, of almost 2,000 patients.

It’s not uncommon to wait 5 or even 10 days to give biologics a chance to work when patients are admitted for acute ulcerative colitis (UC). Based on the review, however, “we believe that the need for prolonged medical therapy and resuscitation in this patient population prior to colectomy may be overstated,” and that “the lasting effects of persistent inflammation cascade are underestimated.”

There has to be “a conversation with the gastroenterologist to strike the right balance between medical and surgical therapy. Early surgical intervention” should be considered, lead author and general surgery resident Ira Leeds, MD, said at the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons annual meeting.

The team reviewed 1,953 index UC admissions with emergent non-elective abdominal surgery in the National Inpatient Sample (NIS) database from 2008-13; 546 patients (28%) had early operations – within 24 hours of admission – and the other 1,407 had operations after that time.

Although it’s impossible to say for sure given the limits of administrative data in the NIS, patients who had surgery soon after admission were probably sicker. Even so, they were less likely to have complications than patients in the delayed surgery group (55% versus 43%), and they had shorter hospital stays, with just 8% in the hospital past 21 days, versus 29% of patients who had delayed operations. The findings were similar for both overall length of stay and post-op length of stay.

Renal complications (8% versus 14%), pulmonary complications (20% versus 25%), and thromboembolic events (4% versus 6%) were also less common in the early surgery group. On multivariable analysis, delayed surgery increased the complication rate by 64%.

With fewer complications and shorter hospital stays, early operations were also less expensive, with a mean total hospitalization cost of $19,985 versus $34,258. The findings were all statistically significant.

Dr. Leeds noted the limits of the study; medical management regimes and the reasons for variations in surgical timing are unknown, among other things. “This is not the final answer on what to do with patients like this, but it opens the door to prospective studies that could control” for such variables, he said.

Early surgery patients were more likely to be male (57% versus 51%) and from households with incomes higher than the national median. There were no difference in age, race, comorbidities, region, or hospital type between the two groups.

Dr. Leeds said he had no disclosures.


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