Study: Reducing Complications of Surgery

Dr Yeo performing a Whipple ProcedureAdequate hydration via a saline drip is essential during surgery, but recent reports suggest that getting the balance of salt and water just right could have an important impact on patient recovery.

In the largest study of its kind researchers at Jefferson found that a slightly saltier intravenous drip (hypertonic saline) reduced the overall rate of complications by 25 percent after the complex Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer.

“This relatively minor change in intravenous fluids has had a tremendous effect on the overall complication rate for our patients,” says the study’s lead author Harish Lavu, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery at Jefferson. “Based on these findings we have already changed our practice in the operating room to use hypertonic saline.”

Jefferson’s program for this type of surgery is one of the highest-volume programs in the nation. Our surgical teams have performed more Whipple procedures and pancreatic resections than any other hospital in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Delaware region.

That experience and volume of surgeries meant that the study – which has broad implications for reducing complications from other types of operations – could be conducted at Jefferson.

Saline delivered intravenously during and after surgery helps to maintain a patient’s fluid balance and blood pressure within the appropriate range. The increased salt concentration in the hypertonic saline is designed to keep the body in equilibrium by helping to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs, interstitial spaces and decreases swelling in the extremities.

The hypertonic saline draws out the excess fluid that builds up in these tissues.

“Too much swelling can compromise the delivery of blood and oxygen to the organs. That reduction can slow the healing process,” says Dr. Lavu.

The current study is the largest of its kind and shows a benefit when hypertonic saline is used for the Whipple procedure formally called a pancreaticoduodenectomy, which can take from to 5-9 hours to perform. Patients undergoing this operation for pancreatic cancer can have complications such as blood clots, pneumonia, wound infection, urinary tract infections, and others.

A total of 264 patients were enrolled in the study, with 128 receiving standard fluid and 131 receiving a slightly saltier hypertonic saline solution. By examining all of the complications together, the researchers found a 25 percent reduction in overall complications in the group that received hypertonic saline. In absolute numbers, 93 patients in the hypertonic group had complications, compared with 123 patients in the standard fluid group.

“We are confident that this change in our surgical process will help our patients recover faster with fewer complications,” says senior author Charles J. Yeo, MD, The Samuel D. Gross Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at Jefferson.

The study was first published online in the Annals of Surgery.

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