Speed of climbing stairs helps predict complications after surgeries

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A new study suggests that checking the speed of climbing stairs before a surgery might help anticipate their odds of some complications after certain procedures.

In the study, 362 adult patients undergoing elective abdominal surgeries were asked to walk up and down a flight of stairs before the operations. Researchers also looked at how much their vital signs changed after finishing the exercise, compared to when they were taking rest.

climbing stairs

The researchers report in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that people who were slower on the stairs were more likely to suffer from spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, which may indicate stress from the exertion.

The slowest patients also had the highest risk of developing post-surgical complications, and this simple climbing test might be effective for doctors to determine which patients face the highest risks from experiencing operations, according to a study author Dr. Sushanth Reddy of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

To see if stair climbing ability could serve as an alternative tool for predicting risk of post-surgical problems, Reddy and colleagues asked people to climb up and down a flight of 7 steps. About 7 percent of them couldn’t complete the task. The remaining of 338 patients who could get up and down the stairs took 18 seconds on average to finish.

On a whole, 84 patients had at least one complication within 90 days after surgery, while other 258 people had none. Many participants with complications were high blood pressure, overweight, diabetes or high cholesterol. The median age of patients having complications was 65 years, compared to 59 among those without complications.

But the only factor that linked to a statistically remarkable increase in the odds of complications was a lower speed on the stairs. On average, people who experienced complications after operations took about 23 seconds for the stair climbing test, compared to 15 seconds for those who didn’t have any complications after the procedures. The patients who were slower on the stairs had about 11 percent higher odds of post-operative complications within 90 days after operations.

One limitation of the study is that the standard in assessing post-surgical complications tends to observe people for just 30 days, thus making it difficult to compare this technique to the alternative stair-climbing test that looked at 90-day complications. However, the longer time range may be a more precise indicator of complications that can often arise more than a month after operations, the authors note.

When climbing stairs, people have to use more cardiac function; therefore, a longer time spent on climbing stairs suggests that they have poorer physiologic function, according to Dr. Nita Ahuja of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

 

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