Older age, female sex, preoperative chronic steroid use, azotemia, respiratory insufficiency, and coagulopathy all predicted death within a month of colectomy in patients with toxic colitis in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Project database.
The study is the largest to evaluate patients undergoing colectomy for toxic colitis, according to lead investigator Dr. Anand Dayama of the University of California, Davis, and his associates.
“In a case such as multiorgan failure with toxic colitis, the decision whether ... to operate can be an immensely difficult one,” Dr. Dayama and his colleagues wrote. “This study can help in making informed decisions in order to avoid the medicolegal ramifications of either performing an unnecessary procedure or withholding a lifesaving one,” they wrote in the American Journal of Surgery.
Surgical salvage remains the preferred treatment for patients with medically refractory toxic colitis. To assess outcomes in these patients, the researchers queried the National Surgical Quality Improvement Project database for relevant International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision codes between 2005 and 2012 (Am J Surg. 2015 Nov;210:852-8).
The results underscored the severity of toxic colitis, they said. Of 189 patients, more than 26% died within 30 days after surgery, one in five developed postsurgical sepsis, about 17% had cardiovascular complications, 15% had wound complications, and 13% had renal complications. Furthermore, patients who were 70-80 years old had 3.5 times greater odds of dying, compared with younger patients (95% confidence interval, 1.0-12.8), and the increased likelihood of death rose by 22.2 when patients were older than 80 years (95% CI, 5.7-86.4).
Other baseline predictors of 30-day mortality included female sex (odds ratio, 4.1), blood urea nitrogen levels above 40 mg/dL (OR, 4.1), an international normalized ratio exceeding 2 (OR, 7.7), preoperative respiratory insufficiency (OR, 2.73), and a history of chronic steroid use (OR, 3.9), the researchers said. In addition, patients who died within 30 days after surgery were more likely than survivors to have undergone prolonged mechanical ventilation (56% vs. 27%), to have returned to the operating room (18% vs. 14%), to have acute renal failure (28% vs. 6%), or to have suffered a cardiac arrest that required cardiopulmonary resuscitation (18% vs. 7%). Survivors averaged about 2 fewer days in the hospital, compared with patients who died after surgery.
“The high morbidity and mortality of toxic colitis requires early and intensive medical management with IV [intravenous] steroids, antibiotics, decompressive maneuvers, and other resuscitative measures to treat the underlying cause,” they emphasized. “If there is no sign of improvement within 7 days or if there are any signs of deterioration, urgent surgical intervention should be considered.”
The link between female sex and mortality might reflect hormonal changes associated with menopause, but the study did not assess hormonal status or use of hormone therapy, the investigators noted. The association between chronic steroid use and postoperative death “is highly relevant” because long-term steroids are so often used in inflammatory bowel disease, they added. Clinical guidelines (Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 Feb;107:179-94) recommend that patients with acute severe ulcerative colitis proceed to second-line therapy or surgery if they do not respond to 3 days of intravenous steroids, because unnecessary delays can increase the risk of postoperative complications, they added.
The researchers reported no funding sources and had no disclosures.