Background Risk factors for unplanned intubation have been delineated, but details regarding when and why reintubations occur as well as strategies for prevention have not been defined. Methods Over a 2-year period, 104 of 3,141 patients (3.3%) monitored via the American College of Surgeons-National Surgical Quality Improvement Program required unplanned intubation. These patients were compared to those who remained extubated and were characterized by (1) the operation performed; (2) the postoperative day when reintubation occurred; and (3) the underlying causes. Results Patients who required reintubation were significantly older (65.8 years) and were more likely to be male (55%) and to have several comorbidities, weight loss (16%), dependency (14%), or sepsis (9%). The operations complicated most commonly by unplanned intubation were gastrectomy (13%), nephrectomy (10%), colectomy (9%), pancreatectomy (8%), hepatectomy (7%), and enterectomy (6%). The most common causes and median postoperative days were sepsis (33%, day 8) and aspiration/pneumonia (31%, day 4). Sepsis was due most commonly to an abdominal or pelvic abscess (74%), which was frequently not recognized despite an inflammatory response. Aspiration occurred most commonly after upper abdominal operations (78%) despite signs of diminished bowel function. Conclusion Postoperative sepsis and aspiration/pneumonia account for two thirds of unplanned intubations. Opportunities for management of patients exist for the prevention of this deadly complication.
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