Low preoperative serum prealbumin levels and the postoperative surgical site infection risk in elective spine surgery: a consecutive series

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Nutritional deficiency negatively affects outcomes in many health conditions. In spine surgery, evidence linking preoperative nutritional deficiency to postoperative surgical site infection (SSI) has been limited to small retrospective studies. Authors of the current study analyzed a large consecutive cohort of patients who had undergone elective spine surgery to determine the relationship between a serum biomarker of nutritional status (preoperative prealbumin levels) and SSI.


The authors conducted a retrospective review of the electronic medical charts of patients who had undergone posterior spinal surgeries and whose preoperative prealbumin level was available. Additional data pertinent to the risk of SSI were also collected. Patients who developed a postoperative SSI were identified, and risk factors for postoperative SSI were analyzed. Nutritional deficiency was defined as a preoperative serum prealbumin level ≤ 20 mg/dl.


Among a consecutive series of 387 patients who met the study criteria for inclusion, the infection rate for those with preoperative prealbumin ≤ 20 mg/dl was 17.8% (13/73), versus 4.8% (15/314) for those with preoperative prealbumin > 20 mg/dl. On univariate and multivariate analysis a low preoperative prealbumin level was a risk factor for postoperative SSI with a crude OR of 4.29 (p < 0.01) and an adjusted OR of 3.28 (p = 0.02). In addition, several previously known risk factors for infection, including diabetes, spinal fusion, and number of operative levels, were significant for the development of an SSI.


In this consecutive series, preoperative prealbumin levels, a serum biomarker of nutritional status, correlated with the risk of SSI in elective spine surgery. Prehabilitation before spine surgery, including strategies to improve nutritional status in patients with nutritional deficiencies, may increase value and improve spine care.

ABBREVIATIONS BMI = body mass index; SSI = surgical site infection.

Article Information

Correspondence David J. Salvetti: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA. salvettidj@upmc.edu.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online July 27, 2018; DOI: 10.3171/2018.3.SPINE171183.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.




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