Outcomes Research in Review

Anesthetic Choices and Postoperative Delirium Incidence: Propofol vs Sevoflurane

Chang JE, Min SW, Kim H, et al. Association between anesthetics and postoperative delirium in elderly patients undergoing spine surgery: propofol versus sevoflurane. Global Spine J. 2022 Jun 22:21925682221110828. doi:10.1177/21925682221110828

Mei X, Zheng HL, Li C, et al. The effects of propofol and sevoflurane on postoperative delirium in older patients: a randomized clinical trial study. J Alzheimers Dis. 2020;76(4):1627-1636. doi:10.3233/JAD-200322



Study 1 Overview (Chang et al)

Objective: To assess the incidence of postoperative delirium (POD) following propofol- vs sevoflurane-based anesthesia in geriatric spine surgery patients.

Design: Retrospective, single-blinded observational study of propofol- and sevoflurane-based anesthesia cohorts.

Setting and participants: Patients eligible for this study were aged 65 years or older admitted to the SMG-SNU Boramae Medical Center (Seoul, South Korea). All patients underwent general anesthesia either via intravenous propofol or inhalational sevoflurane for spine surgery between January 2015 and December 2019. Patients were retrospectively identified via electronic medical records. Patient exclusion criteria included preoperative delirium, history of dementia, psychiatric disease, alcoholism, hepatic or renal dysfunction, postoperative mechanical ventilation dependence, other surgery within the recent 6 months, maintenance of intraoperative anesthesia with combined anesthetics, or incomplete medical record.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was the incidence of POD after administration of propofol- and sevoflurane-based anesthesia during hospitalization. Patients were screened for POD regularly by attending nurses using the Nursing Delirium Screening Scale (disorientation, inappropriate behavior, inappropriate communication, hallucination, and psychomotor retardation) during the entirety of the patient’s hospital stay; if 1 or more screening criteria were met, a psychiatrist was consulted for the proper diagnosis and management of delirium. A psychiatric diagnosis was required for a case to be counted toward the incidence of POD in this study. Secondary outcomes included postoperative 30-day complications (angina, myocardial infarction, transient ischemic attack/stroke, pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, acute kidney injury, or infection) and length of postoperative hospital stay.

Main results: POD occurred in 29 patients (10.3%) out of the total cohort of 281. POD was more common in the sevoflurane group than in the propofol group (15.7% vs 5.0%; P = .003). Using multivariable logistic regression, inhalational sevoflurane was associated with an increased risk of POD as compared to propofol-based anesthesia (odds ratio [OR], 4.120; 95% CI, 1.549-10.954; P = .005). There was no association between choice of anesthetic and postoperative 30-day complications or the length of postoperative hospital stay. Both older age (OR, 1.242; 95% CI, 1.130-1.366; P < .001) and higher pain score at postoperative day 1 (OR, 1.338; 95% CI, 1.056-1.696; P = .016) were associated with increased risk of POD.

Conclusion: Propofol-based anesthesia was associated with a lower incidence of and risk for POD than sevoflurane-based anesthesia in older patients undergoing spine surgery.

Study 2 Overview (Mei et al)

Objective: To determine the incidence and duration of POD in older patients after total knee/hip replacement (TKR/THR) under intravenous propofol or inhalational sevoflurane general anesthesia.

Design: Randomized clinical trial of propofol and sevoflurane groups.

Setting and participants: This study was conducted at the Shanghai Tenth People’s Hospital and involved 209 participants enrolled between June 2016 and November 2019. All participants were 60 years of age or older, scheduled for TKR/THR surgery under general anesthesia, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) class I to III, and assessed to be of normal cognitive function preoperatively via a Mini-Mental State Examination. Participant exclusion criteria included preexisting delirium as assessed by the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM), prior diagnosed neurological diseases (eg, Parkinson’s disease), prior diagnosed mental disorders (eg, schizophrenia), or impaired vision or hearing that would influence cognitive assessments. All participants were randomly assigned to either sevoflurane or propofol anesthesia for their surgery via a computer-generated list. Of these, 103 received inhalational sevoflurane and 106 received intravenous propofol. All participants received standardized postoperative care.

Main outcome measures: All participants were interviewed by investigators, who were blinded to the anesthesia regimen, twice daily on postoperative days 1, 2, and 3 using CAM and a CAM-based scoring system (CAM-S) to assess delirium severity. The CAM encapsulated 4 criteria: acute onset and fluctuating course, agitation, disorganized thinking, and altered level of consciousness. To diagnose delirium, both the first and second criteria must be met, in addition to either the third or fourth criterion. The averages of the scores across the 3 postoperative days indicated delirium severity, while the incidence and duration of delirium was assessed by the presence of delirium as determined by CAM on any postoperative day.

Main results: All eligible participants (N = 209; mean [SD] age 71.2 [6.7] years; 29.2% male) were included in the final analysis. The incidence of POD was not statistically different between the propofol and sevoflurane groups (33.0% vs 23.3%; P = .119, Chi-square test). It was estimated that 316 participants in each arm of the study were needed to detect statistical differences. The number of days of POD per person were higher with propofol anesthesia as compared to sevoflurane (0.5 [0.8] vs 0.3 [0.5]; P =  .049, Student’s t-test).

Conclusion: This underpowered study showed a 9.7% difference in the incidence of POD between older adults who received propofol (33.0%) and sevoflurane (23.3%) after THR/TKR. Further studies with a larger sample size are needed to compare general anesthetics and their role in POD.


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