General surgery safe for pregnant women, study concludes

Pregnant women on sofaBeing pregnant doesn’t increase the risks associated with general surgery, suggests a new study.

But will these findings make some headway in clearing up the long-standing debate over the safety of undergoing general surgical operations while pregnant?

Until now, studies have yielded conflicting results; sometimes suggesting that there is an increased chance of maternal illness or death.

“Pregnant patients undergoing emergency and non-emergency general surgery do not appear to have elevated rates of [illness or death],” Dr. Robert Meguid, of the University of Colorado, and his colleagues wrote in the journal, JAMA Surgery.

“Therefore, general surgery appears to be as safe in pregnant as it is in non-pregnant women.”

Meguid and a team of researchers in the US analyzed a national surgical database, looking at data from more than 2,700 pregnant women who had general surgery between 2006 and 2011. They compared that with nearly 517,000 patients who were not pregnant when they had an operation.

They discovered that pregnant women were more likely than non-pregnant women to have inpatient surgical interventions (75% versus 60%) and more likely to have emergency interventions (50.5% versus 13%).

They also noticed that there was no significant difference in death rates post-surgery. Pregnant women had a 0.4 chance of mortality within 30 days of a general surgical intervention, while non-pregnant women’s risk factor level was 0.3.

When it comes to complications (such as surgical site infection or bleeding requiring transfusion), 6.6% of pregnant women had at least one complication  compared with 7.4% of non-pregnant women.

"These findings support previous reports that pregnant patients who present with acute surgical disease should undergo the procedure if delay in definitive care will lead to progression of disease," the researchers concluded.

With around one in 500 pregnant women undergoing general surgical operations in the US, would knowing that the risks don’t increase due to pregnancy give more women peace of mind?

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