Preoperative evaluation for noncardiac surgery

Preoperative evaluation for noncardiac surgery

Mark H. Ebell

Clinical Question

Can this patient safely undergo noncardiac surgery?

Evidence Summary

Guidelines from the American College of Physicians (ACP) (1) and the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) (2) address the preoperative evaluation of patients for noncardiac surgery. The ACP guideline was issued in 1997 and currently is being revised. The ACC/AHA guideline, which was written in 1996 and updated in 2002, forms the basis of the accompanying patient encounter form.

The decision to proceed with surgery begins with an assessment of risk. The physician should assess the patient’s preoperative risk factors and the risks associated with the planned surgery. The patient encounter form in this Point-of-Care Guide uses the ACC/AHA classification of high, intermediate, and low surgical procedure risk, and provides examples for each category.

Careful attention must be given to specific risk factors that increase the patient’s risk of surgical complications or death from the planned surgery. A number of studies (3-5) have validated clinical decision rules for the assessment of cardiac risk. The study by Lee and colleagues (5) is the most recent, simplest and, arguably, best-validated decision support tool. Lee’s Simple Cardiac Risk Index and its interpretation are included in the patient encounter form as an aid in decision-making.

The ACC/AHA guideline (2) advocates an approach that considers major, intermediate, and minor predictors of increased preoperative cardiovascular risk (see accompanying table). If a major risk predictor is present, nonemergency surgery should be delayed for medical management, risk-factor modification, and possible coronary angiography.

Functional status should be assessed in patients who have one or more intermediate risk predictors. Poor functional status is defined as less than 4 metabolic equivalents (METs). Patients with poor functional status may be able to do light work around the house, such as dusting or washing dishes, and can walk a block or two on level ground at a rate of 2 to 3 miles per hour (mph); however, they may be unable to climb a flight of stairs, walk up a hill, walk on level ground at a rate of 4 mph, or run a short distance. Examples of activities that require more than 4 METs include golf, bowling, dancing, doubles tennis, throwing a ball, and heavy work around the house. (2) Patients with poor functional status should undergo noninvasive testing unless low-risk surgery is planned.

Patients with good or excellent functional status require noninvasive testing only if they are having high-risk surgery. Finally, patients with minor risk predictors or no risk predictors should have noninvasive testing if they have poor functional status and are about to undergo high-risk surgery.

The selection of noninvasive testing depends on the clinical situation. (2) Exercise stress testing is recommended in patients who are able to exercise and have a normal resting electrocardiogram (ECG); exercise echocardiography or perfusion imaging is recommended if the resting ECG is abnormal. Nuclear or echocardiographic pharmacologic stress imaging is recommended in patients who are unable to exercise and do not have second-degree atrioventricular block, bronchospasm, theophylline dependence, valvular dysfunction, or marked hypertension. In other clinical situations, the physician should consult a cardiologist for recommendations on how to proceed.

The patient encounter form includes an abbreviated version of the ACC/AHA algorithm for bedside use. However, physicians are strongly encouraged to refer to the complete ACC/AHA guideline (2) and its more detailed algorithm for preoperative cardiac assessment. The encounter form links Lee’s Simple Cardiac Risk Index (5) to the ACC/AHA guideline’s major, intermediate, and minor cardiac risk predictors.

Finally, the ACC/AHA guideline (2) provides a reminder for physicians to consider perioperative beta blockade and measures to reduce the risk of venous thromboembolism. Good evidence supports the use of beta blockers in patients at high cardiac risk who are to undergo vascular procedures, patients who have recently required beta blockers to control symptoms of angina, patients with symptomatic arrhythmias or hypertension, and patients in whom preoperative assessment identifies untreated hypertension, known coronary disease, or major risk factors for coronary disease. (2)

Applying the Evidence

Mrs. Smith is a 72-year-old woman who is planning to undergo elective cholecystectomy. She has diabetes mellitus that is well controlled with oral medication, is an active walker, and has no known history of cardiovascular disease or renal insufficiency.What is her cardiac risk?

Answer: Elective cholecystectomy is moderate-risk surgery. The patient’s Simple Cardiac Risk Index score is zero (0.4 percent risk of complications), she appears to have good functional status, and she has only one intermediate risk predictor (diabetes mellitus). The algorithm would suggest that she be cleared for surgery. The patient’s physician should consider perioperative beta blockade and measures to prevent venous thromboembolism.

Preoperative Evaluation Encounter Form

Patient’s name: —

Age: —

Medical record #: —

Surgical procedure: —

American College of Cardiology (ACC)/American Heart Association (AHA)

classification of surgical procedure risk:

[ ] High risk–major emergency surgery, major vascular surgery,

prolonged surgery with large fluid shifts

[ ] Moderate risk–carotid endarterectomy, head and neck surgery,

intraperitoneal or intrathoracic surgery, orthopedic surgery,

prostate surgery

[ ] Low risk–cataract removal, endoscopy, breast surgery, superficial


History of illness: —

Physical examination:

Blood pressure: — Heart rate: — Temperature: —

Relative risk: —

Normal Abnormal Comment if abnormal

General [ ] [ ] —

Heart [ ] [ ] —

Vascular/bruits [ ] [ ] —

Lungs [ ] [ ] —

Abdomen [ ] [ ] —

Extremities [ ] [ ] —

Laboratory tests

(optional if low-risk surgery):

Hemoglobin/hematocrit: —

Creatinine: —

ECG: —

Chest radiograph: —


[ ] Clear for surgery.

[ ] Refer for cardiology evaluation and possible coronary angiography.

Noninvasive testing: [ ] Dipyridamole stress thallium

[ ] Dobutamine stress echo

[ ] Other: —

[ ] Start beta blocker: —

Start date: —

[ ] Anticoagulation: —

Other recommendations: —

Physician’s signature: —

Date: —

Encounter form developed by Mark H. Ebell, M.D., M.S., Michigan State

University College of Human Medicine, East Lansing. Copyright[C]

2004 American Academy of Family Physicians. Physicians may photocopy

or adapt for use in their own practices; all other rights reserved.

“Point-of-Care Guides.” Ebell MH. American Family Physician. April 15,

2004;69:1977-80. Accessible online at:

This guide is one in a series that offers evidence-based tools to

assist family physicians in improving their decision-making at

the point of care.

Decision support:

Lee’s Simple Cardiac Risk Index

Clinical variable Points

High-risk surgery (intraperitoneal, intrathoracic, 1

or suprainguinal vascular surgery)

Coronary artery disease 1

Congestive heart failure 1

History of cerebrovascular disease 1

Insulin treatment for diabetes mellitus 1

Preoperative serum creatinine >2.0 mg per dL 1

(>176.8 [micro]mol per L)

Total points:

Score interpretation (risk of complications *):

0 points = class I (0.4%)

1 point = class II (0.9%)

2 points = class III (6.6%)

[greater than or equal to] 3 points = class I, (11.0%)

*–Complications may include myocardial infarction, pulmonary

embolism, ventricular fibrillation, cardiac arrest, or complete

heart block.



(1.) Palda VA, Detsky AS. Perioperative assessment and management of risk from coronary artery disease. Ann Intern Med 1997;127:313-28.

(2.) Eagle KA, Berger PB, Calkins H, Chaitman BR, Ewy GA, Fleischmann KE, et al. ACC/AHA guideline update on perioperative cardiovascular evaluation for noncardiac surgery. A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Committee to Update the 1996 Guidelines on Perioperative Cardiovascular Evaluation for Noncardiac Surgery). American College of Cardiology Web site. Accessed online March 9, 2004, at:

(3.) Goldman L, Caldera DL, Nussbaum SR, Southwick FS, Krogstad D, Murray B, et al. Multifactorial index of cardiac risk in noncardiac surgical procedures. N Engl J Med 1977;297:845-50.

(4.) Detsky AS, Abrams HB, McLaughlin JR, Drucker DJ, Sasson Z, Johnston N, et al. Predicting cardiac complications in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery. J Gen Intern Med 1986;1: 211-9.

(5.) Lee TH, Marcantonio ER, Mangione CM, Thomas EJ, Polanczyk CA, Cook EF, et al. Derivation and prospective validation of a simple index for prediction of cardiac risk of major noncardiac surgery. Circulation 1999;100:1043-9.

MARK H. EBELL, M.D., M.S., Athens, Georgia

Mark H. Ebell, M.D., M.S., is in private practice in Athens, Ga., and is associate professor in the Department of Family Practice at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, East Lansing. He is also deputy editor for evidence-based medicine of American Family Physician.

Address correspondence to Mark H. Ebell, M.D., M.S., 330 Snapfinger Dr., Athens, GA 30605 (e-mail: Reprints are not available from the author.

COPYRIGHT 2004 American Academy of Family Physicians

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group