What Are All the High-Risk Surgeries?
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High-Risk Surgeries and Their Rationale

Published on Jan 30, 2023 and last reviewed on Aug 14, 2023   -  4 min read


High-risk surgeries are due to specific factors related to the patient and the surgery. Refer to this article to know more in detail.

High-Risk Surgeries and Their Rationale


High-risk surgeries are not well described, but the surgeon "knows it when they see it." Few studies show that open repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is increased-risk surgery. This procedure is exclusively conducted on more aged patients, most of whom have pre-existing cardiovascular disease or risk factors for vascular disease. Thus, the procedure is high risk partly due to the features of the patients on whom it is routinely conducted. The procedure has inherent risks, given the requirement for laparotomy and the cardiac stress engendered by aortic cross-clamping. Few suggested high-risk operations as the procedure is associated with significant inpatient mortality.

What All Are Included in the List of High-Risk Surgeries?

The lists that recognize operations a surgeon might characterize as high risk are contaminated by operations associated with caring for patients with critical illness, such as tracheostomy, ventriculostomy, and wound debridement. Few have focused on the patient factor more, and they attempt to find out patients at higher risk who have surgery. Birkmeyer and colleagues have investigated surgical quality and protection for over 15 years using a distinct group of major cardiovascular and cancer operations with high operative morbidity or mortality (abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, carotid endarterectomy, coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), aortic valve repair (AVR), pancreatectomy, esophagectomy, gastrectomy, and lung resection). This approach more specifically identifies high-risk surgery and many operations performed annually. The list is limited, except for many operations typically believed to have high risks, such as thoracic aneurysm repair, organ transplantation, and neurosurgical procedures. Also, the list contains procedures that are primarily executed electively. There is no known consensus about a broader definition of high-risk surgery.

A precise description of high-risk surgery may be beneficial for multiple purposes:

What Are High-Risk Operations?

High-risk operations may be described as surgeries with a mortality rate of 5 percent or higher. This high mortality rate can be attributed to several factors connected to the nature of the surgery and the patient's physiological status. These factors jointly leave the high-risk patient unable to meet the tissue oxygen demand caused by the inflammatory response to surgery and thus at risk of worsening inflammation, organ dysfunction, and death. The approach to patients undergoing high-risk operations or with a medical history presenting high perioperative risk includes modifying their cardiovascular parameters to get predetermined hemodynamic goals to enhance tissue oxygen flux. This is called goal-directed therapy. The increased survival rate decreased complications, and reduced length of hospital stay, are obtained when goal-directed therapy is utilized to enhance cardiac index (CI) and oxygen delivery index to targeted grades at any point in the perioperative period.

It is necessary to choose the right patients to receive goal-directed therapy. Research has resulted in several validated scoring systems that can indicate perioperative mortality and thus help choose the patients to receive goal-directed therapy. Unfortunately, only a minority of high-risk patients receive goal-directed therapy. There remains debate encircling the methods used to choose the appropriate patients, the impact on critical care resources, and the techniques utilized to monitor hemodynamic parameters.

What Are the Pathophysiology of High-Risk Surgery and the Rationale for Goal-Directed Therapy?

Major surgery induces a systemic inflammatory response, which directs to raised oxygen demand in the tissues. High-risk surgical patients are assumed to be less able to increase cardiac output and their ability to extract oxygen from the blood to satisfy this increased demand. This results in tissue hypoxia and leads to endothelial activation, increased vascular permeability, cytokine release, vasoconstriction, and activation of leukocytes and the complement cascade. Left untreated, these impacts can lead to worsening inflammation, organ dysfunction, and death. Goal-directed therapy aims to modify hemodynamic parameters so a good amount of oxygen is released into the tissues. In this method, advanced oxygen demand induced by the postoperative inflammatory reaction is satisfied, and the sequelae of tissue hypoxia, microcirculatory failure, organ failure, and death may be avoided.

Who Are the High-Risk Surgical Patients?

High-risk patients are those who have more than five percent of mortality. This can be derived from a procedure with an overall mortality greater than five percent or a patient with an individual mortality risk of more than five percent. Simple clinical measures are used to identify high-risk surgical patients. The generally utilized systems are the POSSUM score and ASA grading. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing is the most suitable way to identify poor cardiorespiratory reserve and increased surgical risk.

There are procedure-related factors that increase the risk of the patient, which include:

  • Major surgery means surgery's extent, complexity, and invasiveness.

  • Duration of operation.

Patient-related factors that increase the risk of the surgery include:

  • Decreased cardiopulmonary reserve or physical reserve.

  • Important comorbidities.

The procedures whose risk of mortality is more than five percent include:

  • Emergency aortic surgery.

  • Major surgery on the large intestine in the presence of a complicating condition.

  • Major abdominal surgery of all types in patients aged seventy or higher.

  • Complex hip or knee revision surgery.

  • The neck of femur fracture in patients aged seventy or higher in a complicating condition.

  • Complex procedures involve the stomach, duodenum, or esophagus.

  • Elective abdominal vascular surgery.

Several methods are available to identify high-risk patients.

It includes :

  • Clinical criteria include patients with severe cardiac or respiratory illness resulting in severe functional limitation, patients with extensive surgery planned for carcinoma involving bowel anastomosis, blood loss of more than two and a half liters, and age higher than seventy years with functional limitation of one or more organ system and septicemia.

  • P-POSSUM, which scores physiological and operative severity.

  • ASA grading, an assessment of patient comorbidities.

  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing.


In recent years significant measures have been taken to decrease perioperative harm to the patient. High-risk surgical patients are an under-notable group with a high mortality rate. The methods used to identify high-risk surgical patients and the techniques and equipment to manage high-risk operations have also seen continuing development and raised usage. The benefit of such techniques has been associated with reduced postoperative complications and mortality.

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Last reviewed at:
14 Aug 2023  -  4 min read




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