Oxygen administration for postoperative surgical patients: a narrative review

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Most postoperative surgical patients routinely receive supplemental oxygen therapy to prevent the potential development of hypoxemia due to incomplete lung re-expansion, reduced chest wall, and diaphragmatic activity caused by surgical site pain, consequences of hemodynamic impairment, and residual effects of anesthetic drugs (most notably residual neuromuscular blockade), which may result in atelectasis, ventilation–perfusion mismatch, alveolar hypoventilation, and impaired upper airway patency. Additionally, the World Health Organization guidelines for reducing surgical site infection have recommended the perioperative administration of high-dose oxygen, including during the immediate postoperative period. However, supplemental oxygen and hyperoxemia also have harmful effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, with several clinical studies having reported an association between high perioperative oxygen administration and worse clinical outcomes. Recently, the increased availability of new and short-acting anesthetic drugs, comprehensive pharmacological knowledge, postoperative multimodal analgesia, and new minimally invasive surgery options could result in lower incidences of postoperative hypoxemia. Moreover, recommendations promoting high oxygen administration to prevent surgical site infections have been challenged, considering the lack of scientific investigations, and have not been widely accepted. Given the potential harmful effects of hyperoxemia, routine postoperative oxygen administration might not be recommended. Recent clinical studies have indicated that a conservative approach to oxygen therapy, where oxygen administration is titrated to achieve slightly lower oxygen levels than usual, could be safely implemented and decrease acutely ill patients’ susceptibility to hyperoxemia. Based on current evidence, appropriate monitoring, including peripheral oxygen saturation, and oxygen titration should be required during postoperative oxygen administration to avoid both hypoxemia and hyperoxemia. Future trials should therefore focus on determining the optimal oxygen target during postoperative care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
JournalJournal of Intensive Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Hyperoxemia
  • Hypoxemia
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Postoperative care
  • Surgical site infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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