Total joint arthroplasty (TJA) is a highly effective surgery. However, poor nutritional status has been associated with worse outcomes. In orthopedics, nutrition status is commonly evaluated using serum albumin. When albumin levels fall below 3.0 g/dL, wound healing ability becomes impaired. Typically, malnutrition is associated with low BMI, but malnourished patients can also be obese. The goals of this study were to investigate the relationship between malnourishment represented through albumin levels of obese patients and likelihood of postoperative complications.
A retrospective review of patients undergoing primary TJA from 2016 to 2020 in the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program national database was performed. Patients with an albumin of < 3.5 g/dL were considered to have hypoalbuminemia and those with ≥ 3.5 g/dL were considered normal albumin. Univariate analysis was used to determine demographic and comorbidity differences between those with and without hypoalbuminemia. Outcomes of interest included length of stay, resource utilization, discharge disposition, and unplanned readmissions. Multivariate logistic regression examined albumin as a predictor of increased resource utilization and complications after controlling for possible confounding variables.
Of the 79,784 patients, 4.96% of patients had low albumin. Those with hypoalbuminemia were nearly 1.5 years older than those with normal albumin, were more likely to be black, female, and had an overall increased comorbidity burden as shown by percent of patients with ASA > 3 (all p < 0.001). After risk adjustment, those with hypoalbuminemia and a BMI of 35 + had greater risk of complications and increased resource utilization.
Our results demonstrated the prevalence of malnutrition increases as a patient’s BMI increases. Further, hypoalbuminemia was associated with increased resource utilization and increased complication rates in all obese patients. We suggest screening albumin levels in obese patients preoperatively to give surgeons the best opportunity to optimize patient nutrition before undergoing surgery.

© 2023. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.