Inadvertent perioperative hypothermia is a phenomenon that can occur as a result of the suppression of the central mechanisms of temperature regulation due to anaesthesia, and of prolonged exposure of large surfaces of skin to cold temperatures in operating rooms. Inadvertent perioperative hypothermia has been associated with clinical complications such as surgical site infection and wound-healing delay, increased bleeding or cardiovascular events. One of the most frequently used techniques to prevent inadvertent perioperative hypothermia is active body surface warming systems (ABSW), which generate heat mechanically (heating of air, water or gels) that is transferred to the patient via skin contact.
To assess the effectiveness of pre- or intraoperative active body surface warming systems (ABSW), or both, to prevent perioperative complications from unintended hypothermia during surgery in adults.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; Issue 9, 2015); MEDLINE (PubMed) (1964 to October 2015), EMBASE (Ovid) (1980 to October 2015), and CINAHL (Ovid) (1982 to October 2015).
We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared an ABSW system aimed at maintaining normothermia perioperatively against a control or against any other ABSW system. Eligible studies also had to include relevant clinical outcomes other than measuring temperature alone.
Several authors, by pairs, screened references and determined eligibility, extracted data, and assessed risks of bias. We resolved disagreements by discussion and consensus, with the collaboration of a third author.
We included 67 trials with 5438 participants that comprised 79 comparisons. Forty-five RCTs compared ABSW versus control, whereas 18 compared two different types of ABSW, and 10 compared two different techniques to administer the same type of ABSW. Forced-air warming (FAW) was by far the most studied intervention.Trials varied widely regarding whether the interventions were applied alone or in combination with other active (based on a different mechanism of heat transfer) and/or passive methods of maintaining normothermia. The type of participants and surgical interventions, as well as anaesthesia management, co-interventions and the timing of outcome measurement, also varied widely. The risk of bias of included studies was largely unclear due to limitations in the reports. Most studies were open-label, due to the nature of the intervention and the fact that temperature was usually the principal outcome. Nevertheless, given that outcome measurement could have been conducted in a blinded manner, we rated the risk of detection and performance bias as high.The comparison of ABSW versus control showed a reduction in the rate of surgical site infection (risk ratio (RR) 0.36, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.20 to 0.66; 3 RCTs, 589 participants, low-quality evidence). Only one study at low risk of bias observed a beneficial effect with forced-air warming on major cardiovascular complications (RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.05 to 1.00; 1 RCT with 12 events, 300 participants, low-quality evidence) in people at high cardiovascular risk. We found no beneficial effect for mortality. ABSW also reduced blood loss during surgery but the magnitude of this effect seems to be irrelevant (MD -46.17 mL, 95% CI -82.74 to -9.59; I² = 78%; 20 studies, 1372 participants). The same conclusion applies to total fluids infused during surgery (MD -144.49 mL, 95% CI -221.57 to -67.40; I² = 73%; 24 studies, 1491 participants). These effects did not translate into a significant reduction in the number of participants being transfused or the average amount of blood transfused. ABSW was associated with a reduction in shivering (RR 0.39, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.54; 29 studies, 1922 participants) and in thermal comfort (standardized mean difference (SMD) 0.76, 95% CI 0.29 to 1.24; I² = 77%, 4 trials, 364 participants).For the comparison between different types of ABSW system or modes of administration of a particular type of ABSW, we found no evidence for the superiority of any system in terms of clinical outcomes, except for extending systemic warming to the preoperative period in participants undergoing major abdominal surgery (one study at low risk of bias).There were limited data on adverse effects (the most relevant being thermal burns). While some trials included a narrative report mentioning that no adverse effects were observed, the majority made no reference to it. Nothing so far suggests that ABSW involves a significant risk to patients.
Forced-air warming seems to have a beneficial effect in terms of a lower rate of surgical site infection and complications, at least in those undergoing abdominal surgery, compared to not applying any active warming system. It also has a beneficial effect on major cardiovascular complications in people with substantial cardiovascular disease, although the evidence is limited to one study. It also improves patient's comfort, although we found high heterogeneity among trials. While the effect on blood loss is statistically significant, this difference does not translate to a significant reduction in transfusions. Again, we noted high heterogeneity among trials for this outcome. The clinical relevance of blood loss reduction is therefore questionable. The evidence for other types of ABSW is scant, although there is some evidence of a beneficial effect in the same direction on chills/shivering with electric or resistive-based heating systems. Some evidence suggests that extending systemic warming to the preoperative period could be more beneficial than limiting it only to during surgery. Nothing suggests that ABSW systems pose a significant risk to patients.The difficulty in observing a clinically-relevant beneficial effect with ABSW in outcomes other than temperature may be explained by the fact that many studies applied concomitant procedures that are routinely in place as co-interventions to prevent hypothermia, whether passive or active warming systems based in other physiological mechanisms (e.g. irrigation fluid or gas warming), as well as a stricter control of temperature in the context of the study compared with usual practice. These may have had a beneficial effect on the participants in the control group, leading to an underestimation of the net benefit of ABSW.