Anterior approaches to the lumbar spine provide wide exposure that facilitates placement of large grafts with high fusion rates. There are limited data on the effects of obesity on perioperative complications.
Data from consecutive patients undergoing anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) from 2007 to 2016 at a single academic center were analyzed. The primary outcome was any perioperative complication. Complications were divided into those occurring intraoperatively and those occurring postoperatively. Multivariate logistic regression was used to assess the association of obesity and other variables with these complications. An estimation table was used to identify a body mass index (BMI) threshold associated with increased risk of postoperative complication.
A total of 938 patients were identified, and the mean age was 57 years; 511 were females (54.5%). The mean BMI was 28.7 kg/m2, with 354 (37.7%) patients classified as obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2). Forty patients (4.3%) underwent a lateral transthoracic approach, while the remaining 898 (95.7%) underwent a transabdominal retroperitoneal approach. Among patients undergoing transabdominal retroperitoneal ALIF, complication rates were higher for obese patients than for nonobese patients (37.0% vs 28.7%, p = 0.010), a difference that was driven primarily by postoperative complications (36.1% vs 26.0%, p = 0.001) rather than intraoperative complications (3.2% vs 4.3%, p = 0.416). Obese patients had higher rates of ileus (11.7% vs 7.2%, p = 0.020), wound complications (11.4% vs 3.4%, p < 0.001), and urinary tract infections (UTI) (5.0% vs 2.5%, p = 0.049). In a multivariate model, age, obesity, and number of ALIF levels fused were associated with an increased risk of postoperative complication. An estimation table including 19 candidate cut-points, odds ratios, and adjusted p values found a BMI ≥ 31 kg/m2 to have the highest association with postoperative complication (p = 0.012).
Obesity is associated with increased postoperative complications in ALIF, including ileus, wound complications, and UTI. ALIF is a safe and effective procedure. However, patients with a BMI ≥ 31 kg/m2 should be counseled on their increased risks and warrant careful preoperative medical optimization and close monitoring in the postoperative setting.