Bariatric Surgery Impacts Joint Replacement Outcomes in Very Obese Patients

    In a study presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, bariatric surgery performed prior to a total knee or total hip replacement in morbidly obese patients was found to reduce in-hospital and 90-day postoperative complications and improve patient health, but it did not reduce the risk of revision surgery.

    “With our data, I think we can say with confidence that bariatric surgery prior to total joint replacement is not a harmful recommendation,” said lead study author Alexander McLawhorn, MD, MBA, an assistant attending orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

    “As an orthopedic surgeon, you are not going to compromise your joint replacement outcome if you advise a morbidly obese patient to seek an opinion from a bariatric surgeon.”

    Morbid obesity (a body mass index of 40 kg/m2 or more) is associated with poor postoperative outcomes after total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and total hip arthroplasty (THA), including increased risk for:

    • Revision surgery
    • Postoperative infection
    • Medical complications

    Help or Harm?

    Previous studies have shown that bariatric surgery in patients who are morbidly obese can reduce weight and comorbidities, but clinicians have not known whether the surgery is helpful or harmful to morbidly obese patients undergoing a joint replacement.

    Because bariatric surgery has a major impact on the metabolic system, creating a malnourished state, some clinicians have worried that the surgery might have a negative impact on total joint replacement. Others have believed it might improve outcomes by reducing weight and thus the load on a hip or knee joint.

    To shed light on the issue, researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery turned to the New York Statewide Planning and Research Cooperative System (SPARCS) database, a comprehensive all payer data reporting system. They identified all morbidly obese patients who had a THA or TKA in New York State between 1997 and 2011. There were 2,636 patients who underwent TKA and 792 who underwent THA after bariatric surgery.

    The researchers then used propensity score matching to build control groups of morbidly obese TKA and THA patients who did not undergo bariatric surgery before or after the orthopaedic procedure. The propensity score was defined as the conditional probability of a patient undergoing bariatric surgery, given his or her baseline characteristics, including: age, year in which a TKA or THA was performed, laterality (unilateral versus bilateral surgery), sex, health care payer, region (rural versus urban), and Elixhauser comorbidities.

    Lower Risk of Complications

    Statistical analyses showed that bariatric surgery lowered the comorbidity burden of patients prior to total joint replacement (P<0.0001 for TKA and P<0.005 for THA). Morbidly obese patients who had bariatric surgery had lower rates of in-hospital complications for TKA (2.7% vs. 3.9%; P=0.021) and for THA (1.5% vs. 5.3%; P<0.0001).

    Put another way, morbidly obese patients who had bariatric surgery were 31% less likely to experience in-hospital complications after TKA and 75% less likely to experience in-hospital complications after THA.

    The risk for 90-day postoperative complications was also lower in patients who underwent bariatric surgery: 61% lower in the TKA group (OR, 39%; P=0.0019) and 14% lower in the THA group (odds ratio [OR], 0.86; P=0.041).

    Bariatric surgery did not lower the risk of having a revision surgery or the risk for a hip dislocation.

    Accounting for Selection Bias

    Other healthcare claims database studies have examined joint replacement in morbidly obese patients, but results have been inconsistent, most likely due to selection bias.

    “When you look at the design of the other studies, the single biggest flaw is they don’t try to account for the very real selection bias that exists for morbidly obese patients who received bariatric surgery versus those that do not,” Dr. McLawhorn said.

    “The patient population that is indicated for bariatric surgery is different than the universe of patients who are just morbidly obese. They tend to have a much higher comorbidity burden, and they tend to be sicker and heavier. We accounted for this selection bias in our study.”

    The researchers said a prospective trial examining the impact of bariatric surgery on a TKA in morbidly obese patients is in progress.

    “Orthopedic surgeons are seeing a lot of these patients who are morbidly obese and have hip and knee arthritis,” Dr. McLawhorn said. “The question is how do we optimize these patients who have a real problem with their hip or knee and the comorbid condition of obesity, so that they can achieve maximal benefit from their joint replacement.”