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01.12.2019 | Original article | Ausgabe 1/2019 Open Access

The Ultrasound Journal 1/2019

Routine lung ultrasound to detect postoperative pulmonary complications following major abdominal surgery: a prospective observational feasibility study

The Ultrasound Journal > Ausgabe 1/2019
H. R. Touw, A. E. Schuitemaker, F. Daams, D. L. van der Peet, E. M. Bronkhorst, P. Schober, C. Boer, P. R. Tuinman
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Postoperative pulmonary complications after major abdominal surgery are associated with adverse outcome. The diagnostic accuracy of chest X-rays (CXR) to detect pulmonary disorders is limited. Alternatively, lung ultrasound (LUS) is an established evidence-based point-of-care diagnostic modality which outperforms CXR in critical care. However, its feasibility and diagnostic ability for postoperative pulmonary complications following abdominal surgery are unknown. In this prospective observational feasibility study, we included consecutive patients undergoing major abdominal surgery with an intermediate or high risk developing postoperative pulmonary complications according to the Assess Respiratory risk In Surgical patients in CATalonia (ARISCAT) score. LUS was routinely performed on postoperative days 0–3 by a researcher blinded for CXR or other clinical findings. Then, reports were drawn up for LUS concerning feasibility and detection rates of postoperative pulmonary complications. CXRs were performed on demand according to daily clinical practice. Subsequently, we compared LUS and CXR findings.


A total of 98 consecutive patients with an ARISCAT score of 41 (34–49) were included in the study. LUS was feasible in all patients. In 94 (95%) patients, LUS detected one or more postoperative pulmonary complications during the first four postoperative days. On day 0, LUS detected 31 out of 43 patients (72.1%) with one or more postoperative pulmonary complications, compared to 13 out of 36 patients (36.1%) with 1 or more postoperative pulmonary complications detected with CXR RR 2.0 (95 CI [1.24–3.20]) (p = 0.004). The number of discordant observations between both modalities was high for atelectasis 23 (43%) and pleural effusion 29 (54%), but not for pneumothorax, respiratory infection and pulmonary edema 8 (15%), 3 (5%), and 5 (9%), respectively.


This study shows that LUS is highly feasible and frequently detects postoperative pulmonary complications after major abdominal surgery. Discordant observations in atelectasis and pleural effusions for LUS and CXR can be explained by a superior diagnostic ability of LUS in detecting these conditions. The effects of LUS as primary imaging modality on patient outcome should be evaluated in future studies.
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