Comparison of Pneumonia and Major Complications After Total Joint Arthroplasty With Spinal Versus General Anesthesia: A Propensity-matched Cohort Analysis

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons




INTRODUCTION: Spinal anesthesia (SA) allows total joint arthroplasty to be done while minimizing opioids and systemic anesthetic agents compared with general anesthesia (GA). SA has been associated with shortened postoperative recovery; however, the relationship between SA, major postoperative complications, and pneumonia (PNA) remains unclear. METHODS: Patients in a large, national database who underwent total hip arthroplasty or total knee arthroplasty from 2010 to 2020 were identified. 1:1 propensity score matching was used to create matched groups of patients who underwent SA and GA. The groups were matched by age, sex, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smoking status, Charlson Comorbidity Index, and American Society of Anesthesiology (ASA) classification. 1:1 matching was also done among the ASA classifications as a subanalysis. RESULTS: Overall, equally matched groups of 217,267 patients who underwent SA versus GA were identified. 850 patients (0.39%) developed postoperative PNA after GA versus 544 patients (0.25%) after SA (P < 0.001). The risk of major complications was 6,922 (3.2%) in the GA group and 5,401 (2.5%) in the SA group (P < 0.001). Similarly, the risk of unplanned postoperative reintubation was higher (0.18% versus 0.10%, P < 0.001) and mortality was higher (0.14% versus 0.09%, P < 0.001) in the GA group than in the SA group. In ASA 1 to 3 patients, the risk of PNA was 0.08% to 0.21% higher with GA than with SA. In ASA 4 patients, the risk of PNA was 0.42% higher in SA than in GA (1.92% versus 1.5%, P < 0.001) and the mortality rate was nearly doubled in GA than in SA (1.46% versus 0.77%, P = 0.017). DISCUSSION: Overall, GA was associated with a small but markedly higher rate of major complications, mortality, and PNA than SA in patients undergoing total joint arthroplasty when matching for differences in comorbidities. ASA 4 patients experienced the greatest increase in absolute risk of mortality with GA versus SA.


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