New ESC Guidelines for Cutting CV Risk in Noncardiac Surgery


Co-chairpersons Sigrun Halvorsen, MD, PhD, and Julinda Mehilli, MD, presented highlights from the guidelines at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2022 and the document was simultaneously published online in the European Heart Journal.

The document classifies noncardiac surgery into three levels of 30-day risk of CV death, MI, or stroke. Low (<1%) risk includes eye or thyroid surgery; intermediate (1%–5%) risk includes knee or hip replacement or renal transplant; and high (> 5%) risk includes aortic aneurism, lung transplant, or pancreatic or bladder cancer surgery (see more examples below).

It classifies patients as low risk if they are younger than 65 without CVD or CV risk factors (smoking, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, family history); intermediate risk if they are 65 or older or have CV risk factors; and high risk if they have CVD. 

In an interview with | Medscape Cardiology, Halvorsen, professor in cardiology, University of Oslo, Norway, zeroed in on three important revisions:

First, recommendations for preoperative ECG and biomarkers are more specific, he noted.

The guidelines advise that before intermediate- or high-risk noncardiac surgery, in patients who have known CVD, CV risk factors (including age 65 or older), or symptoms suggestive of CVD:

It is recommended to obtain a preoperative 12-lead ECG (Class I)

It is recommended to measure high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T (hs-cTn T) or high-sensitivity cardiac troponin I (hs-cTn I). It is also recommended to measure these biomarkers at 24 hours and 48 hours post-surgery (Class I)

It should be considered to measure B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) or N-terminal-pro-BNP (NT-proBNP)

However, for low-risk patients undergoing low- and intermediate-risk noncardiac surgery, it is not recommended to routinely obtain preoperative ECG, hs-cTn T/I, or BNP/NT-proBNP concentrations (Class III)

Troponins have a stronger Class I recommendation compared to the IIA recommendation for BNP, because they are useful for preoperative risk stratification and for diagnosis of PMI, Halvorsen explained. "Patients receive painkillers after surgery and may have no pain," she noted, but they may have PMI, which has a bad prognosis.

Second, the guidelines recommend that "all patients should stop smoking 4 weeks before noncardiac surgery (Class I)," she noted. Clinicians should also "measure hemoglobin, and if the patient is anemic, treat the anemia."

Patients commonly have "murmurs, chest pain, dyspnea, and edema that may suggest severe CVD, but may also be caused by noncardiac disease," she noted. The guidelines state that "for patients with a newly detected murmur and symptoms or signs of CVD, transthoracic echocardiography is recommended before noncardiac surgery (Class I).

"Many studies have been performed to try to find out if initiation of specific drugs before surgery could reduce the risk of complications," Halverson noted. However, few have shown any benefit and "the question of presurgery initiation of beta-blockers has been greatly debated," she said. "We have again reviewed the literature and concluded 'Routine initiation of beta-blockers perioperatively is not recommended (Class IIIA).' "

"We adhere to the guidelines on acute and chronic coronary syndrome recommending 6-12 months of dual antiplatelet treatment as a standard before elective surgery," she said. "However, in case of time-sensitive surgery, the duration of that treatment can be shortened down to a minimum of 1 month after elective PCI and a minimum of 3 months after PCI and ACS."

Patients with Specific Types of CVD Who

Mehilli, a professor at Landshut-AchdorfHospital, Landshut, Germany, highlighted some new guideline recommendations for patients who have specific types of cardiovascular disease.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). "For chronic coronary syndrome, a cardiac workup is recommended only for patients undergoing intermediate risk or high risk noncardiac surgery."

"Stress imaging should be considered before any high risk, noncardiac surgery in asymptomatic patients with poor functional capacity and prior PCI or coronary artery bypass graft (new recommendation, Class IIa)."

Mitral Valve Regurgitation. For patients undergoing scheduled noncardiac surgery, who remain symptomatic despite guideline-directed medical treatment for mitral valve regurgitation (including resynchronization and myocardial revascularization), consider a valve intervention — either transcatheter or surgical — before noncardiac surgery in eligible patients with acceptable procedural risk (new recommendation).

Cardiac Implantable Electronic Devices (CIED). For high-risk patients with CIEDs undergoing noncardiac surgery with high probability of electromagnetic interference, a CIED checkup and necessary reprogramming immediately before the procedure should be considered (new recommendation).

Arrhythmias. "I want only to stress," Mehilli said, "in patients with atrial fibrillation with acute or worsening hemodynamic instability undergoing noncardiac surgery, an emergency electrical cardioversion is recommended (Class I)."

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm . For these patients "we do not recommend a routine referral for a cardiac workup. But we recommend it for patients with poor functional capacity or with significant risk factors or symptoms (new recommendations)."

Chronic Arterial Hypertension. "We have modified the recommendation, recommending avoidance of large perioperative fluctuations in blood pressure, and we do not recommend deferring noncardiac surgery in patients with stage 1 or 2 hypertension," she said.

Postoperative Cardiovascular Complications

The most frequent postoperative cardiovascular complication is PMI, Mehilli noted.

"In the BASEL-PMI registry, the incidence of this complication around intermediate or high-risk noncardiac surgery was up to 15% among patients older than 65 years or with a history of CAD or PAD, which makes this kind of complication really important to prevent, to assess, and to know how to treat."

"It is recommended to have a high awareness for perioperative cardiovascular complications, combined with surveillance for PMI in patients undergoing intermediate- or high-risk noncardiac surgery" based on serial measurements of high-sensitivity cardiac troponin.

The guidelines define PMI as "an increase in the delta of high-sensitivity troponin more than the upper level of normal," Mehilli said. "It's different from the one used in a rule-in algorithm for non-STEMI acute coronary syndrome."

Postoperative atrial fibrillation (AF) is observed in 2%–30% of noncardiac surgery patients in different registries, particularly in patients undergoing intermediate or high-risk noncardiac surgery, she noted.

"We propose an algorithm on how to prevent and treat this complication. I want to highlight that in patients with hemodynamic unstable postoperative AF, an emergency cardioversion is indicated. For the others, a rate control with the target heart rate of less than 110 beats per minute is indicated."


In patients with postoperative AF, long-term oral anticoagulation therapy should be considered in all patients at risk for stroke, considering the anticipated net clinical benefit of oral anticoagulation therapy as well as informed patient preference (new recommendations).

Routine use of beta-blockers to prevent postoperative AF in patients undergoing noncardiac surgery is not recommended.

The document also covers the management of patients with kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and COVID-19. In general, elective noncardiac surgery should be postponed after a patient has COVID-19, until he or she recovers completely, and coexisting conditions are optimized.

The guidelines are available from the ESC website in several formats: pocket guidelines, pocket guidelines smartphone app, guidelines slide set, essential messages, and the European Heart Journal article.

Noncardiac Surgery Risk Categories

The guideline includes a table that classifies noncardiac surgeries into three groups, based on the associated 30-day risk of death, MI, or stroke:

Low (<1%): breast, dental, eye, thyroid, and minor gynecologic, orthopedic, and urologic surgery.

Intermediate (1%–5%): carotid surgery, endovascular aortic aneurysm repair, gallbladder surgery, head or neck surgery, hernia repair, peripheral arterial angioplasty, renal transplant, major gynecologic, orthopedic, or neurologic (hip or spine) surgery, or urologic surgery

High (>5%): aortic and major vascular surgery (including aortic aneurysm), bladder removal (usually as a result of cancer), limb amputation, lung or liver transplant, pancreatic surgery, or perforated bowel repair.