A large retrospective cohort study analyzing nearly 21,000 patients who underwent primary total hip arthroplasty (THA) found that the 61% who received general anesthesia were much more likely to experience an adverse event within 30 days than the 39% who received spinal anesthesia.
Among the adverse events analyzed, the increased risks associated with general anesthesia were more than five-fold for prolonged postoperative ventilator use and cardiac arrest, and more than two-fold for unplanned intubation and stroke. These findings are generally consistent with those of prior research into this question, but the authors say this is “the largest study to date” looking at the comparison.
The authors analyzed data from the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP), and they found that the increased adverse-event risk with general anesthesia held throughout all ranges of preoperative comorbidity. They therefore contend that while many previous studies have found advantages for spinal anesthesia in “medically complex” joint-replacement patients, “this study indicates that these benefits may also extend to patients with fewer medical comorbidities.”
Despite these findings, the authors stress that spinal anesthesia is not risk-free, with the potential (albeit low) for permanent injury to the spinal cord or spinal nerves. They also note that their 30-day postoperative analysis did not capture patient-centered metrics such as postsurgical pain or longer-term functional outcomes.