Preoperative regional cerebral oxygen saturation is a predictor of postoperative delirium in on-pump cardiac surgery patients: a prospective observational trial
© Schoen et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2011
Received: 25 May 2011
Accepted: 19 September 2011
Published: 19 September 2011
Postoperative delirium is an important problem in patients undergoing major surgery. Cerebral oximetry is a non-invasive method to detect imbalances in the cerebral oxygen supply/demand-ratio. Low preoperative cerebral oxygen saturation (ScO2) levels have been associated with postoperative delirium in non-cardiac surgery patients. The present prospective observational study determines the relationship between pre- and intra-operative ScO2 levels and postoperative delirium in patients undergoing on-pump cardiac surgery.
After approval of the local ethical committee and written informed consent, N = 231 patients scheduled for elective/urgent cardiac surgery were enrolled. Delirium was assessed by the confusion-assessment-method for the intensive care unit (CAM-ICU) on the first three days after surgery. ScO2 was obtained on the day before surgery, immediately before surgery and throughout the surgical procedure. Preoperative cognitive function, demographic, surgery related, and intra- and post-operative physiological data were registered.
Patients with delirium had lower pre- and intra-operative ScO2 readings, were older, had lower mini-mental-status-examination(MMSE) scores, higher additive EuroScore and lower preoperative haemoglobin-levels. The binary logistic regression identified older age, lower MMSE, neurological or psychiatric disease and lower preoperative ScO2 as independent predictors of postoperative delirium.
The presented study shows that a low preoperative ScO2 is associated with postoperative delirium after on-pump cardiac surgery.
Delirium is a common and serious problem in critically ill patients  and occurs in up to 41%  of cardiac surgical patients. Several preoperative risk factors for delirium after cardiac surgery have been identified: age, cognitive status, the severity of illness (that is, cardiogenic or septic shock), anemia, and certain medications like sedatives, anti-cholinergics, or hypnotics [2–6].
Whereas the hyperactive form of delirium is easily recognized, the much more frequent hypoactive form is often missed by nurses and intensive care physicians [7, 8]. As both the hyperactive and the hypoactive form of delirium have been shown to be associated with prolonged hospital stay, increased mortality, functional decline, and long-term cognitive impairment [1, 9–12], specific diagnostic algorithms need to be implemented and prevention of delirium should be the focus of perioperative cardiac surgery care .
Near-infrared spectroscopy offers the possibility of measuring the oxygen supply/demand ratio in frontal brain tissue non-invasively [14, 15]. We recently showed that preoperative cerebral oxygen saturation determined by near-infrared spectroscopy is reflective of the severity of cardiopulmonary dysfunction and is associated with postoperative morbidity and mortality in patients undergoing on-pump cardiac surgery . As the preoperative severity of illness has been shown to be a predictor of postoperative delirium , an association between preoperative cerebral oxygenation and postoperative delirium is conceivable. In a small cohort of non-cardiac surgical patients, Morimoto and colleagues  could already identify preoperative cerebral saturation to be an independent risk factor for postoperative delirium.
The present observational cohort study was designed to explore the relationship between pre- and intraoperative cerebral oxygen saturation levels and postoperative delirium in patients undergoing on-pump cardiac surgery. The primary hypothesis was that patients who develop postoperative delirium differ from those who do not develop delirium after cardiac surgery in preoperative regional cerebral oxygen saturation. The secondary hypothesis was that pre- and intraoperative cerebral oxygen saturation (ScO2) values influence the risk of postoperative delirium in patients undergoing on-pump cardiac surgery. The present work analyzes a subset of patients of our previous study  who underwent additional specific testing on delirium.
Materials and methods
The present report is a substudy of a large observational study that our group published earlier this year  and has been approved by the local ethics committee (Ethikkommission der Universität zu Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany). After written informed consent was obtained, 256 consecutive patients were enrolled in this prospective observational study during a 3-month period (1 October 2008 to 31 January 2009). The inclusion criteria were elective or urgent cardiac surgery and ability to perform the confusion assessment method for the intensive care unit (CAM-ICU). Exclusion criteria were age below 18 years, hemodynamic instability with emergency indication for cardiac surgery, or insufficient knowledge of the German language.
The 168 patients who were enrolled between 1 October and 31 December 2008 were participants of the outcome study that our working group published earlier this year . That study included 1,178 patients in total, so the present study analyzes almost 15% of the patients in the outcome study.
On the day before surgery, after inclusion and written informed consent in the observational study, patients were assessed with the CAM-ICU  in order to affirm the inclusion criteria for the substudy. The Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE) was conducted to record preoperative cognitive function. Demographic and physiological data as well as preoperative morbidity and medication were documented. Routine blood tests included leukocytes, C-reactive protein, hemoglobin, creatinine, and N-terminal pro B-type natriuretic peptide (NTproBNP) electrochemiluminescence immunoassay (Elecsys proBNP sandwich immunoassay; Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany, Roche Diagnostics).
Regional cerebral oxygen saturation (ScO2) measurement was performed by using the INVOS Cerebral Oximeter 5100 (Somanetics, Troy, MI, USA) with bi-hemispherical near-infrared spectroscopy sensors. The mean of both hemispheres was used for analysis. ScO2 measurement was performed on the day before surgery. The first value (ScO2room) was obtained in a sitting position without supplemental oxygen. To correct for possible hypoxemia, the patients were supplied with 4 L per minute supplemental oxygen until peripheral arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2) reached greater than 98%. After stabilization of the signal (2 to 4 minutes), the ScO2 after compensation of hypoxemia was determined (ScO2ox).
Anesthesia was performed in accordance with institutional standards with etomidate 0.2 mg/kg, sufentanil 0.5 μg/kg, and rocuroniumbromide 0.7 mg/kg for induction and remifentanil 0.25 μg/kg per minute and sevoflurane 1.0 to 1.5 minimum alveolar concentration (MAC) for maintenance of anesthesia. Hemodynamic monitoring was applied in accordance with institutional standards. Surgery was performed in mild hypothermia by using antegrade blood cardioplegia.
All patients were monitored with continuous bi-hemispherical cerebral oxygen saturation monitoring in addition to the standard monitoring including electrocardiogram, SaO2, invasive blood pressure, and central venous pressure. Cerebral oximetry was part of the routine monitoring, and interventions were made by the attending anesthetist as required. No specific algorithm has been applied. The institutional recommendation includes head repositioning, control and optimization of carbon dioxide, and optimization of mean arterial pressure as first-line interventions and reevaluation and optimization of cardiac performance (or pump flow on cardiopulmonary bypass) and reevaluation of transfusion trigger as second-line interventions.
Measurement was recorded and analyzed after cessation of the study period. Intraoperative baseline, lowest intraoperative values as well as areas under the curve (AUCs) resulting from the cutoff values 'below 80% of intraoperative baseline' and 'below ScO2 = 50% absolute value' were identified and documented.
Postoperative sedation followed the institutional standard and was performed with starting doses of remifentanil 0.125 μg/kg per minute and propofol 1.5 to 2 mg/kg per hour. In the absence of contraindications, a continuous application of metamizol 3 g per 24 hours was started. After adequate rewarming, the propofol dose was stopped, single doses of pethidin 25 mg and piritramid 3.75 mg were applied, and the remifentanil dose was continuously reduced. Further piritramid was applied according to patients' analgesic needs.
To determine possible intra- and postoperative differences in the groups, intraoperative requirement of packed red cells, fresh frozen plasma, and inotropic drugs was documented. Postoperative markers of myocardial injury, inflammation, and renal function were documented.
Determination of primary endpoint
On days 1, 2, and 3 after surgery, patients were assessed for delirium with the CAM-ICU. The CAM-ICU includes the four features of 'acute onset or fluctuating course', 'inattention', 'disorganized thinking', and 'altered level of consciousness'. The positive diagnosis 'delirium' affords a positive result in the first two features and either feature three or four. The determination of sedation status with the Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS)  is required for assessment of testability of the sedated patient and for differentiation of hypo- and hyperactive delirium. The diagnosis of delirium requires an RASS score of at least -3. A positive diagnosis of delirium with RASS score of not more than -1 is defined as the hypoactive form of delirium, and a positive diagnosis with RASS score of greater than 0 is defined as hyperactive delirium. The CAM-ICU was performed by a trained investigator who was blinded to the intraoperative ScO2 measurements. A positive CAM-ICU in at least one of the first three postoperative days was defined as 'delirium'.
Statistical analyses were performed with the PASW Statistics 18 (formerly SPSS) for Windows (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). After analysis by the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test for normality of distribution, group differences were analyzed by the Student t test for independent samples. If normal distribution was not given, the chi-square test (nominal data) or the Mann-Whitney U test (continuous data) was used as appropriate.
All preoperative variables differing significantly with a P value of less than 0.01 in the univariate analysis were included in a multivariate logistic regression analysis. The best cutoff values for the continuous variables were further determined by receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis. Statistical significance was assessed at the 5% level (P < 0.05 is statistically significant).
In a post hoc power analysis, the prevalence of delirium in the studied sample is sufficient to identify group differences with medium effect size (d = 0.42) with a probability of error of 5% and a power of 80%. A medium effect can be regarded as clinically relevant and we therefore considered the group size to be sufficient for relevant results.
Incidence of delirium
Sixty-two patients (26.8%) developed postoperative delirium. In 45 (72.6%) cases, delirium developed on day 1, in 16 (25.8%) on day 2, and in 1 case (1.6%) on day 3 after surgery. The hypoactive form of delirium was present in 69.4% of cases.
Characterizing measures of preoperative cerebral and arterial oxygen saturation and intraoperative cerebral oxygen saturation in patients with or without postoperative delirium
ScO2base - ScO2room
SaO2base - SaO2room
Lowest value, ScO2min
< 80% of baseline, minimum
< 80% of baseline, AUC
< 50% absolute value, minimum
< 50% absolute value, AUC
ScO2base - ScO2min
ScO2room - ScO2min
Demographic, neurocognitive, pre- and intraoperative, and laboratory variables
Preoperative demographics, patient- and surgery-related factors, and laboratory variables in patients with or without delirium
Sex, number (percentage)
Age in years, mean (SD)
Body mass index in kg/m2, mean (SD)
Educational level, number (percentage)
General qualification for university entrance
MMSE score, mean (SD)
EuroScore score, mean (SD)
LVEF, number (percentage)
Preoperative morbidity, number (percentage)
Cerebral vessel stenosis > 50%
Neurological or psychiatric disease
Surgical procedure, number (percentage)
Coronary artery bypass grafting
Preoperative laboratory results, mean (SD)
C-reaktive protein, mg/dL
Characterizing intraoperative and postoperative data in patients with or without postoperative delirium
Duration of CPB in minutes, mean (SD)
Duration of aortic crossclamp in minutes, mean (SD)
Minimal intraoperative hemoglobin in g/L, mean (SD)
Intraoperative variables in mL, mean (SD)
Packed red cells
Fresh frozen plasma
Intraoperative cumulative variables in mg, mean (SD)
Marker of myocardial injury, mean (SD)
MB fraction of CK percentage on POD 1
MB fraction of CK percentage on POD 2
MB fraction of CK percentage on POD 3
Markers of inflammation, mean (SD)
CRP in mg/dL on POD 1
CRP in mg/dL on POD 2
CRP in mg/dL on POD 3
Leukocytes in μL-1 on POD 1
Leukocytes in μL-1 on POD 2
Leukocytes in μL-1 on POD 3
Marker of renal function, mean (SD)
Creatinine in μmol/L on POD 1
Creatinine in μmol/L on POD 2
Creatinine in μmol/L on POD 3
Renal replacement therapy, number (percentage)
Intra-aortic balloon pump, number (percentage)
Reintubation rate, number (percentage)
Duration of ventilation in minutes, mean (SD)
Intensive care unit length of stay in days, mean (SD)
Receiver operating characteristic analysis
The ROC analysis for age on delirium (AUC 0.696, P = 0.0001) identified a best cutoff age of more than 70 years. The ROC analysis for hemoglobin (AUC 0.635, P = 0.003) identified a best cutoff hemoglobin of not more than 120 g/L. ROC analysis for NTproBNP (AUC 0.648, P = 0.0001) identified a best cutoff NTproBNP of greater than 995 pg/mL.
Binary logistic regression with preoperative predictors of delirium (Nagelkerke's R2 of 39.6%)
< 70 years
≥ 70 years
0 to 3
4 to 6
7 to 9
10 to 20
> 120 g/L
≤ 120 g/L
< 1,000 pg/mL
≥ 1,000 pg/mL
Baseline ScO2 with O2
The present study reconfirms the known risk factors for postoperative delirium which are old age, altered cognitive function, and neurological or psychiatric disease [4, 20, 21]. Beyond this, the study identifies preoperative cerebral oxygen saturation (ScO2) measured with near-infrared spectroscopy as an important predictor of postoperative delirium. This finding is in line with observations of Morimoto and colleagues , who showed a relationship between preoperative ScO2 and the incidence of postoperative delirium in a small cohort of non-cardiac surgical patients.
Regarding the technical basis of the method, cerebral oximetry is based on the characteristic of hemoglobin to change its absorbtion spectrum with the degree of oxygenation . Two wavelengths of visible and near-infrared light are used to determine the fraction of oxyhemoglobin in a small region of the frontal lobe. According to the blood distribution in cortical brain tissue, regional cerebral oxygen saturation is a predominantly venous signal and may be regarded as a marker of regional cerebral oxygen balance .
Several authors considered relative changes to baseline to be relevant as a threshold for intervention in regional cerebral oxygen saturation [15, 23]. In our previous publication, we already had emphasized the meaning of absolute values for outcome prediction . In the present study, we did not find any differences between patients with or without delirium regarding relative changes of ScO2. Neither between changes from baseline values to minimal intraoperative ScO2 nor between the sizes of the AUCs below 80% of the baseline. The absolute values did differ and are predictors of delirium. Certainly, absolute values of ScO2 are prone to technical influences , including sensor location, scattering, and changing path length of the detected light beam . In accordance with our findings, several other studies showed absolute cutoff values that were associated with postoperative cognitive dysfunction after cardiac surgery. Our group showed main effects of intraoperative cerebral desaturation to ScO2 of less than 50% on three of four cognitive tests , Yao and colleagues  showed that an intraoperative ScO2 of less than 40% was predictive of postoperative cognitive dysfunction, and Slater and colleagues  found an AUC more than 3,000%*sec with cutoff ScO2 of less than 50% to be a predictor for cognitive dysfunction. Furthermore, animal studies have shown changes in cellular integrity below absolute cutoff values of ScO2 independently of baseline values . Therefore, the absolute ScO2 seems to reflect, to a certain degree, the level of cerebral oxygenation impairment. Patients who already start surgery with low ScO2 readings can more easily reach deleterious regions of ScO2 and therefore are prone to postoperative cerebral impairment.
Interestingly, the present data show that, in patients who start at normal levels of ScO2, postoperative delirium is associated with a larger decline in ScO2, and this is not the case in patients who already start with marginal ScO2. We interpret this finding to be suggestive of the great impact of preoperative ScO2. If baseline is already low, the risk of delirium is higher independently of the intraoperative course of ScO2. This finding emphasizes the importance of preoperative ScO2 measurements. In accordance with several other studies [2, 21, 29, 30], the present study shows that patients who develop delirium after cardiac surgery are older and more severely ill and have lower cognitive capacity than those who did not develop delirium. Kishi and colleagues  have already shown a negative correlation between ScO2 and age. Impaired cerebral microcirculation in older age and lower oxygen content are possible explanations for this association. Furthermore, an impaired global hemodynamic situation in this more severely ill group of patients might influence the ScO2 .
Interestingly, neither the hemoglobin level as a parameter contributing to oxygen content nor the NTproBNP as a marker of cardiac insufficiency nor the additive EuroScore could be identified as a predictor of postoperative delirium, leaving old age, cognitive status, neurological disease, and cerebral oxygen saturation contributing to the relative risk.
Carlson and colleagues  recently published the interesting association between cognitive function and regional cerebral oxygen saturation in awake older patients. The authors interpreted the ScO2 to be a marker of cerebral reserve. Stern  has proposed the concept of cognitive reserve to characterize individual differences that allow some people to cope better than others with brain pathology. The cognitive reserve is influenced by both structural and functional factors. In the line with this concept, the ScO2 could be understood as a physical marker of cognitive reserve. The low preoperative regional cerebral oxygen saturation in patients who develop postoperative delirium might characterize patients with high susceptibility to cerebral impairment.
Cerebral oxygenation is dependent on arterial oxygen content. To correct a merely hypoxemia-dependent decline in the ScO2, we obtained the baseline value on the day before surgery in awake patients after application of supplemental oxygen.
In contrast to our recent findings , the present study showed a best predictive value of ScO2 of less than 59.5% for postoperative delirium, which is almost 10% higher than the reported ScO2 of less than 50% for morbidity and mortality. This discrepancy might be explained, on one hand, by patient selection. The former study included all patients, even those with emergency indication who presented in cardiogenic shock, whereas the present data selected patients for elective or urgent surgery, who were easily able to perform the preoperative minimal cognitive testing. On the other hand, in patients with high susceptibility to cerebral disturbance, an even more subtle set of changes in oxygenation might lead to postoperative delirium. The postoperative findings that patients who develop delirium have greater postoperative morbidity and ventilation time confirm other studies .
The present data indicate that preoperative cerebral oxygen saturation influences the risk of postoperative delirium. Further investigation should, therefore, focus on different approaches to optimize preoperative cerebral oxygenation. One pivotal point is the arterial oxygen content. Interestingly, patients who develop delirium had lower preoperative hemoglobin levels. Consistently, they received more transfusions of packed red cells and vasoactive substances. Despite these intraoperative measures to keep oxygen content up to the needed levels, these patients developed delirium more often. Floyd and colleagues  depicted an interesting relation between anemia, age, and cerebral blood flow in the context of cardiac surgery. Cerebral oxygenation seems, therefore, to be influenced not only by arterial oxygen content itself but also by secondary cerebral blood flow alterations due to anemia, which is even more pronounced in older patients. Whether preoperative optimization of oxygen content could reduce the risk of delirium and which hemoglobin level should be aimed at need to be subjected to further studies.
Another approach to optimize cerebral oxygenation could be the hemodynamic status. Medium-term application (that is, 12 to 24 hours preoperatively) of positive inotropic substances could possibly increase preoperative cardiac output  and consequently cerebral oxygen saturation. The calcium sensitizer levosimendan could be particularly promising as it combines hemodynamic , preconditioning , and neuroprotective  effects.
We did not perform a power analysis for this observational study. However, the CAM-ICU is sufficiently validated to identify delirium in critically ill and cardiac surgical patients [38–40], and the incidence of postoperative delirium of 26% and the proportion of diagnosed hypoactive form of delirium confirm other work in cardiac surgical patients [2, 7, 39, 40].
The latest guidelines for the management of analgesia, sedation, and delirium recommend a monitoring of delirium every 8 hours. Shorter phases of delirium or fluctuating states in the rather large intervals between the measurements might, therefore, have been missed in the present study. Patients who have been categorized as delirious in the present study show a longer duration of ventilation and a longer stay in the intensive care unit. Therefore, the used definition of delirium seems to discriminate a population at risk for a more complex postoperative course.
An important limitation is that the analgesic requirements in the postoperative care were not registered. As the choice as well as the dose of analgesic drugs might trigger delirium , it is possible, despite standardized sedation and analgesia protocols, that the incidence of delirium has been biased by postoperative analgesia.
The selection of variables for the multivariate analysis can be discussed. We included the preoperative ScO2 but not the minimal intraoperative value. This decision was based on the intention to identify predictive parameters for postoperative delirium.
The inclusion of MMSE but not educational level in the multivariate model might be questioned. The close relation between the MMSE and the educational level would have confounded the model. However, we decided that the actual cognitive status might be more representative than educational level, which might be influenced by various demographic factors. The EuroScore compiles variables of cardiac, pulmonary, and renal function as well as extracardiac vascular pathology and demographic factors like age. Because age is such a relevant predictor for postoperative delirium [2, 6, 42], we accepted the inclusion of age as a separate variable as well as a contributor to the additive EuroScore. This decision might have led to an over-representation of age in the model. The factor of neurological disease included psychiatric disorders (that is, depression) as well as stroke or mild dementia. All of these diseases have in common a possibly high sensitivity to hemodynamic, oxygenative, or metabolic disturbances . Nonetheless, the information given by this composite variable is certainly questionable.
The present study identifies the preoperative cerebral oxygen saturation as well as age, cognitive status, and neurological or psychiatric disease as independent predictors of postoperative delirium in cardiac surgical patients. The association of the cerebral oxygen saturation to functional aspects of cerebral impairment (that is, altered cognitive function) as well as structural aspects of cerebral integrity (that is, old age or hemodynamic condition) makes it an interesting tool for predicting and possibly preventing cognitive disturbances after cardiac surgery.
Patients who develop postoperative delirium after cardiac surgery have a lower preoperative cerebral oxygen saturation.
The relative intraoperative decline in cerebral oxygen saturation does not differ in patients with and without delirium.
Along with the known preoperative risk factors of age, cognitive status, and neurological disease, preoperative regional cerebral oxygen saturation is an independent predictor of postoperative delirium.
area under the curve
Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit
Mini-Mental Status Examination
N-terminal pro B-type natriuretic peptide
Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale
receiver operating characteristic
arterial oxygen saturation
regional cerebral oxygen saturation
minimal intraoperative regional cerebral oxygen saturation
regional cerebral oxygen saturation after compensation of hypoxemia
regional cerebral oxygen saturation obtained in a sitting position without supplemental oxygen.
We acknowledge the technical support of Covidien (Neustadt, Germany), which provided an INVOS 4100 monitor to be used outside the operating room. The analyses of hormones were kindly performed by Roche Diagnostics (Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany). We thank the members of the cardiac anesthesia unit and the personnel of the Department of Clinical Chemistry for their help in data and blood sample acquisition.
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