Share this article on:

Preparing the Patient for Enhanced Recovery After Surgery

Jankowski, Christopher J. MD, MBOE

International Anesthesiology Clinics: October 2017 - Volume 55 - Issue 4 - p 12–20
doi: 10.1097/AIA.0000000000000157
Review Articles

Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota

The author declares that he has nothing to disclose.

Address Correspondence to: Christopher J. Jankowski, MD, MBOE, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Charlton 1-145, 200 First Street, SW, Rochester, MN 55905. E-mail:

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal.

As is detailed elsewhere in this issue, enhanced recovery pathways integrate evidence-based best practices across the spectrum of perioperative care. Although interventions in the operating room and in the postoperative ward are important for improving postoperative outcomes in enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS®) pathways, an ERAS® approach for preoperative care is equally important for achieving optimal outcomes. This review will describe current recommendations for preparing patients for surgery within an ERAS® program.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Preadmission Education and Counseling

Regardless of the type of surgery, all ERAS® guidelines recommend preadmission counseling and education.1–10 These efforts may reduce anxiety, improve recovery, enhance would healing, and decrease hospital length of stay (LOS). A variety of approaches are acceptable, including personal counseling, printed materials, and electronic media, alone or in combination. Whatever approach is used, it should consist of detailed information about the surgical procedure, anesthesia, and expected course of recovery. The latter is especially important, as information regarding the importance of patient participation in early mobilization and feeding, pulmonary toilet, and pain control may improve compliance and, thus, outcomes. Studies supporting this intervention appeared as far back as the 1960s.11

Back to Top | Article Outline

Preoperative Optimization


Prehabilitation (PREHAB) is the concept that recovery should begin before surgery. The aim is to increase physiological and functional reserve through preoperative physical conditioning.12 The theory is attractive, as decreased physiological and functional reserve are associated with poor outcomes. For example, in a large study utilizing the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database analyzing 232,352 patients, increasing frailty (ie, decreasing physiological and functional reserve) was independently associated with increased rates of complications and 30-day mortality, and with increased hospital LOS.13 A recent systematic review addressed the utility of PREHAB to improve postoperative cardiorespiratory function and outcomes.14 Eight studies of low-to-medium quality examining the effects of PREHAB on cardiothoracic, colon, orthopedic, and vascular surgery were included in the review. There was considerable heterogeneity among the studies and limited evidence that PREHAB improves outcomes. Therefore, PREHAB is not recommended in any current ERAS® guideline.1–10 A number of RCTs are currently addressing this issue and may provide additional perspective on the utility of PREHAB.15

Back to Top | Article Outline

Smoking Cessation

In addition to the long-term consequences of tobacco use, current smokers are at increased risk for perioperative wound and pulmonary complications.16,17 To reduce this risk, at least 1 month of abstinence is required.17,18 Surgery is associated with an increased incidence of spontaneous smoking cessation and may represent a time when patients are more receptive to messages regarding the importance of quitting.19,20 A variety of approaches are effective to assist patients in smoking cessation.21 Further, perioperative interventions may result in long-term smoking cessation.22–24

Back to Top | Article Outline

Abstinence from Alcohol

Alcohol abuse is associated with an increased risk of postoperative cardiopulmonary, wound, and bleeding complications, and there is evidence that 1 month of abstinence reduces postoperative morbidity.25,26 Therefore, ERAS® guidelines strongly recommend 4 weeks of preoperative abstinence for alcohol abusers.1–10

Back to Top | Article Outline

Mechanical Bowel Preparation

Beginning in the early 1970s, mechanical bowel preparation (MBP) plus oral antibiotics was routinely used before elective abdominal surgery.27 The goal was to reduce colonic bacterial load and the likelihood of infectious complications because of spillage of bowel contents. However, MBP actually may increase the likelihood of spillage.28

MBP is uncomfortable for patients.29 It also contributes to preoperative dehydration30 and may increase the need for perioperative intravenous fluid administration, in conflict with the ERAS® approach of minimizing intravenous fluids. Further, MBP has been associated with prolonged ileus after colon surgery.29 A Cochrane review of this subject, which included 5805 patients, found no differences in anastomotic leakage, wound infection, or the need for reoperation, regardless of whether patients received MBP vs. no MBP, or MBP vs. rectal enema alone.31 On the basis of this, ERAS® guidelines recommend against MBP before elective abdominal surgery.1–9

However, recent evidence conflicts with this recommendation. In a study utilizing the NSQIP database and including 8442 patients receiving MBP with antibiotics, MBP without antibiotics, or no preparation, MBP with antibiotics was independently associated with reduced incidences of surgical site infection (SSI) [odds ratio (OR)=0.40; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.31-0.53], anastomotic leak (OR=0.57; 95% CI, 0.35-0.94), and postoperative ileus (OR=0.71; 95% CI, 0.56-0.90) compared with no MBP at all. MBP without antibiotics was not associated with decreased rates of SSI, anastomotic leak, or ileus.32

A recent meta-analysis of seven randomized controlled trials with a total of 1769 patients undergoing elective colorectal surgery found that oral systemic antibiotics plus MBP reduced the incidence of total and incisional surgical site infection compared with systemic antibiotics alone or MBP alone (total: 7.2% vs. 16.0%, P<0.00001; incisional: 4.6% vs. 12.1%, P<0.00001).33 Thus, ERAS® guidelines with regard to the use of MBP may need to be revisited in the future.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Preoperative Fasting

For decades, fasting after midnight was the standard of care before surgery. This was thought to reduce the risk of pulmonary aspiration by ensuring an empty stomach. However, that practice was not based on any meaningful evidence and persists despite data suggesting that prolonged fasting is associated with delayed recovery and poorer outcomes.34 Prolonged fasting increases perioperative insulin resistance and discomfort after abdominal surgery.35,36 In addition, when compared with allowing patients to freely consume clear liquids up until 2 hours before surgery, fasting after midnight results in neither lower amounts of gastric content nor increased gastric pH.37,38 Body habitus does not seem to influence gastric emptying, nor does uncomplicated type-II diabetes mellitus.39–41 Although there is no definitive evidence that gastric emptying of liquids is delayed in patients with diabetic neuropathy, gastric emptying of solids is thought to be delayed in this population.42 The American Society of Anesthesiologists and other international organizations now recommend intake of clear fluids until 2 hours before surgery and refraining from solid food for at least 6 hours before surgery (See Table 1).35,43–45

Table 1

Table 1

Back to Top | Article Outline

Dietary Preparation

Oral Immunonutrition

Surgery alters immune function and evokes an inflammatory response.46 Preoperative enteral diets containing high levels of arginine, glutamine, nucleotides, and omega-3 fatty acids have been investigated as a way to modulate postoperative alterations in immune and inflammatory behavior.11,47–49 In the context of non-ERAS® care, many studies show a benefit from immunonutrition with regard to a reduction in complications and LOS.50,51 However, the results are not consistent. An ongoing RCT may provide more clarity on this issue.52

Back to Top | Article Outline

Carbohydrate Treatment

The surgical stress response induces a catabolic state.46 Provision of a carbohydrate-rich drink 2-3 hours before surgery places patients in a metabolically fed state.7 It reduces postoperative nitrogen and protein losses, helps to maintain lean body mass and muscle strength, and decreases insulin resistance.53–58 In addition, carbohydrate treatment reduces preoperative thirst, hunger, and anxiety.38,59 In major abdominal surgery, preoperative carbohydrate loading is associated with reductions in LOS, but not in complications.60–62 Its benefit for more minor surgery is less clear. In an RCT including 94 patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy, carbohydrate loading did not confer any benefits.63 Its use in diabetic patients has not been well studied. Further study is needed to determine patients and procedures for which this procedure is most appropriate.

Back to Top | Article Outline


The incidence of preoperative anxiety may be as high as 80%.64 Pharmacological preoperative sedation is the traditional method for providing relief. However, this approach has disadvantages. First, the absorption and efficacy of oral anxiolytics are unpredictable. Second, they are associated with prolonged impairment in psychomotor function and can impair patients’ capacity to meet recovery milestones.65 In the context of an ERAS® program, this is significant because it may impede the ability to ambulate, eat, and drink, all important parts of these pathways. Therefore, routine pharmacological anxiolysis, especially with long-acting agents, is not recommended. A variety of nonpharmacological interventions, including a preoperative visit with an anesthesiologist and music chosen by the patient are effective in reducing preoperative anxiety.66,67 In addition, some ERAS® components are themselves effective anxiolytics. These include preoperative education and counseling, avoiding prolonged starvation times, and preoperative carbohydrate loading.7,59

Back to Top | Article Outline


ERAS® pathways encompass the entire perioperative period. Preoperative components of ERAS® are vital to the success of these programs (Table 2). Individually, they have been demonstrated to improve outcome. In addition, they engage patients in their care and recovery. Although many of the interventions are well established, others require further study to clarify their role in improving postoperative outcomes.

Table 2

Table 2

Back to Top | Article Outline


1. Nelson G, Altman AD, Nick A, et al. Guidelines for pre- and intra-operative care in gynecologic/oncology surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS(R)) society recommendations—Part I. Gynecol Oncol. 2016;140:313–322.
2. Scott MJ, Baldini G, Fearon KC, et al. Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) for gastrointestinal surgery—Part 1: pathophysiological considerations. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2015;59:1212–1231.
3. Feldheiser A, Aziz O, Baldini G, et al. Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) for gastrointestinal surgery—Part 2: consensus statement for anaesthesia practice. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2016;60:289–334.
4. Mortensen K, Nilsson M, Slim K, et al. Consensus guidelines for enhanced recovery after gastrectomy: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS(R)) Society recommendations. Br J Surg. 2014;101:1209–1229.
5. Cerantola Y, Valerio M, Persson B, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care after radical cystectomy for bladder cancer: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS(R)) society recommendations. Clin Nutr. 2013;32:879–887.
6. Lassen K, Coolsen MM, Slim K, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care for pancreaticoduodenectomy: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS(R)) society recommendations. World J Surg. 2013;37:240–258.
7. Gustafsson UO, Scott MJ, Schwenk W, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care in elective colonic surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS(R)) society recommendations. Clin Nutr. 2012;31:783–800.
8. Thorell A, MacCormick AD, Awad S, et al. Guidelines for Perioperative care in bariatric surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) society recommendations. World J Surg. 2016;40:2065–2083.
9. Melloul E, Hubner M, Scott M, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care for liver surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) society recommendations. World J Surg. 2016;40:2425–2440.
10. Dort JC, Farwell DG, Findlay M, et al. Optimal perioperative care in major head and neck cancer surgery with free flap reconstruction: a consensus review and recommendations from the enhanced recovery after surgery society. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;143:292–303.
11. Daly JM, Lieberman MD, Goldfine J, et al. Enteral nutrition with supplemental arginine, RNA, and omega-3 fatty acids in patients after operation: immunologic, metabolic, and clinical outcome. Surgery. 1992;112:56–67.
12. Moorthy K, Wynter-Blyth V. Prehabilitation in perioperative care. Br J Surg. 2017;104:802–803.
13. Mosquera C, Spaniolas K, Fitzgerald TL. Impact of frailty on surgical outcomes: the right patient for the right procedure. Surgery. 2016;160:272–280.
14. Lemanu DP, Singh PP, MacCormick AD, et al. Effect of preoperative exercise on cardiorespiratory function and recovery after surgery: a systematic review. World J Surg. 2013;37:711–720.
16. Bluman LG, Mosca L, Newman N, et al. Preoperative smoking habits and postoperative pulmonary complications. Chest. 1998;113:883–889.
17. Sorensen LT, Karlsmark T, Gottrup F. Abstinence from smoking reduces incisional wound infection: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Surg. 2003;238:1–5.
18. Lindstrom D, Sadr Azodi O, Wladis A, et al. Effects of a perioperative smoking cessation intervention on postoperative complications: a randomized trial. Ann Surg. 2008;248:739–745.
19. Warner DO. Helping surgical patients quit smoking: why, when, and how. Anesth Analg. 2005;101:481–487.
20. Warner DO. Surgery as a teachable moment: lost opportunities to improve public health. Arch Surg. 2009;144:1106–1107.
21. Thomsen T, Villebro N, Moller AM. Interventions for preoperative smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014:CD002294.
22. Sadr Azodi O, Lindstrom D, Adami J, et al. The efficacy of a smoking cessation programme in patients undergoing elective surgery: a randomised clinical trial. Anaesthesia. 2009;64:259–265.
23. Wong J, Abrishami A, Yang Y, et al. A perioperative smoking cessation intervention with varenicline: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Anesthesiology. 2012;117:755–764.
24. Lee SM, Landry J, Jones PM, et al. Long-term quit rates after a perioperative smoking cessation randomized controlled trial. Anesth Analg. 2015;120:582–587.
25. Tonnesen H, Kehlet H. Preoperative alcoholism and postoperative morbidity. Br J Surg. 1999;86:869–874.
26. Tonnesen H, Rosenberg J, Nielsen HJ, et al. Effect of preoperative abstinence on poor postoperative outcome in alcohol misusers: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 1999;318:1311–1316.
27. Nichols RL, Condon RE, Gorbach SL, et al. Efficacy of preoperative antimicrobial preparation of the bowel. Ann Surg. 1972;176:227–232.
28. Mahajna A, Krausz M, Rosin D, et al. Bowel preparation is associated with spillage of bowel contents in colorectal surgery. Dis Colon Rectum. 2005;48:1626–1631.
29. Jung B, Lannerstad O, Pahlman L, et al. Preoperative mechanical preparation of the colon: the patient's experience. BMC Surg. 2007;7:5.
30. Holte K, Nielsen KG, Madsen JL, et al. Physiologic effects of bowel preparation. Dis Colon Rectum. 2004;47:1397–1402.
31. Guenaga KF, Matos D, Castro AA, et al. Mechanical bowel preparation for elective colorectal surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003:CD001544.
32. Kiran RP, Murray AC, Chiuzan C, et al. Combined preoperative mechanical bowel preparation with oral antibiotics significantly reduces surgical site infection, anastomotic leak, and ileus after colorectal surgery. Ann Surg. 2015;262:416–425; discussion 23-5.
33. Chen M, Song X, Chen LZ, et al. Comparing mechanical bowel preparation with both oral and systemic antibiotics versus mechanical bowel preparation and systemic antibiotics alone for the prevention of surgical site infection after elective colorectal surgery: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Dis Colon Rectum. 2016;59:70–78.
34. Lambert E, Carey S. Practice guideline recommendations on perioperative fasting: a systematic review. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2016;40:1158–1165.
35. Smith I, Kranke P, Murat I, et al. Perioperative fasting in adults and children: guidelines from the European Society of Anaesthesiology. Eur J Anaesthesiol. 2011;28:556–569.
36. Svanfeldt M, Thorell A, Brismar K, et al. Effects of 3 days of “postoperative” low caloric feeding with or without bed rest on insulin sensitivity in healthy subjects. Clin Nutr. 2003;22:31–38.
37. Ljungqvist O, Soreide E. Preoperative fasting. Br J Surg. 2003;90:400–406.
38. Brady M, Kinn S, Stuart P. Preoperative fasting for adults to prevent perioperative complications. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003:CD004423.
39. Harter RL, Kelly WB, Kramer MG, et al. A comparison of the volume and pH of gastric contents of obese and lean surgical patients. Anesth Analg. 1998;86:147–152.
40. Maltby JR, Pytka S, Watson NC, et al. Drinking 300 mL of clear fluid two hours before surgery has no effect on gastric fluid volume and pH in fasting and non-fasting obese patients. Can J Anaesth. 2004;51:111–115.
41. Breuer JP, von Dossow V, von Heymann C, et al. Preoperative oral carbohydrate administration to ASA III-IV patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery. Anesth Analg. 2006;103:1099–1108.
42. Kong MF, Horowitz M. Diabetic gastroparesis. Diabet Med. 2005;22 (suppl 4):13–18.
43. Practice guidelines for preoperative fasting and the use of pharmacologic agents to reduce the risk of pulmonary aspiration: application to healthy patients undergoing elective procedures: an updated report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists task force on preoperative fasting and the use of pharmacologic agents to reduce the risk of pulmonary aspiration. Anesthesiology. 2017;126:376–393.
44. Eriksson LI, Sandin R. Fasting guidelines in different countries. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 1996;40:971–974.
45. Soreide E, Eriksson LI, Hirlekar G, et al. Pre-operative fasting guidelines: an update. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2005;49:1041–1047.
46. Finnerty CC, Mabvuure NT, Ali A, et al. The surgically induced stress response. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2013;37:21S–29S.
47. Gianotti L, Braga M, Vignali A, et al. Effect of route of delivery and formulation of postoperative nutritional support in patients undergoing major operations for malignant neoplasms. Arch Surg. 1997;132:1222–1229; discussion 9-30.
48. Kemen M, Senkal M, Homann HH, et al. Early postoperative enteral nutrition with arginine-omega-3 fatty acids and ribonucleic acid-supplemented diet versus placebo in cancer patients: an immunologic evaluation of Impact. Crit Care Med. 1995;23:652–659.
49. Senkal M, Kemen M, Homann HH, et al. Modulation of postoperative immune response by enteral nutrition with a diet enriched with arginine, RNA, and omega-3 fatty acids in patients with upper gastrointestinal cancer. Eur J Surg. 1995;161:115–122.
50. Marimuthu K, Varadhan KK, Ljungqvist O, et al. A meta-analysis of the effect of combinations of immune modulating nutrients on outcome in patients undergoing major open gastrointestinal surgery. Ann Surg. 2012;255:1060–1068.
51. Drover JW, Dhaliwal R, Weitzel L, et al. Perioperative use of arginine-supplemented diets: a systematic review of the evidence. J Am Coll Surg. 2011;212:385–399. 99 e1.
52. Ciacio O, Voron T, Pittau G, et al. Interest of preoperative immunonutrition in liver resection for cancer: study protocol of the PROPILS trial, a multicenter randomized controlled phase IV trial. BMC Cancer. 2014;14:980.
53. Crowe PJ, Dennison A, Royle GT. The effect of pre-operative glucose loading on postoperative nitrogen metabolism. Br J Surg. 1984;71:635–637.
54. Svanfeldt M, Thorell A, Hausel J, et al. Randomized clinical trial of the effect of preoperative oral carbohydrate treatment on postoperative whole-body protein and glucose kinetics. Br J Surg. 2007;94:1342–1350.
55. Yuill KA, Richardson RA, Davidson HI, et al. The administration of an oral carbohydrate-containing fluid prior to major elective upper-gastrointestinal surgery preserves skeletal muscle mass postoperatively—a randomised clinical trial. Clin Nutr. 2005;24:32–37.
56. Henriksen MG, Hessov I, Dela F, et al. Effects of preoperative oral carbohydrates and peptides on postoperative endocrine response, mobilization, nutrition and muscle function in abdominal surgery. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2003;47:191–199.
57. Noblett SE, Watson DS, Huong H, et al. Pre-operative oral carbohydrate loading in colorectal surgery: a randomized controlled trial. Colorectal Dis. 2006;8:563–569.
58. Nygren J, Soop M, Thorell A, et al. Preoperative oral carbohydrate administration reduces postoperative insulin resistance. Clin Nutr. 1998;17:65–71.
59. Hausel J, Nygren J, Lagerkranser M, et al. A carbohydrate-rich drink reduces preoperative discomfort in elective surgery patients. Anesth Analg. 2001;93:1344–1350.
60. Nygren J, Thorell A, Ljungqvist O. Preoperative oral carbohydrate nutrition: an update. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2001;4:255–259.
61. Noblett SE, Snowden CP, Shenton BK, et al. Randomized clinical trial assessing the effect of Doppler-optimized fluid management on outcome after elective colorectal resection. Br J Surg. 2006;93:1069–1076.
62. Smith MD, McCall J, Plank L, et al. Preoperative carbohydrate treatment for enhancing recovery after elective surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014:CD009161.
63. Bisgaard T, Kristiansen VB, Hjortso NC, et al. Randomized clinical trial comparing an oral carbohydrate beverage with placebo before laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Br J Surg. 2004;91:151–158.
64. Sheen MJ, Chang FL, Ho ST. Anesthetic premedication: new horizons of an old practice. Acta Anaesthesiol Taiwan. 2014;52:134–142.
65. Walker KJ, Smith AF. Premedication for anxiety in adult day surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009:CD002192.
66. Leigh JM, Walker J, Janaganathan P. Effect of preoperative anaesthetic visit on anxiety. Br Med J. 1977;2:987–989.
67. Hole J, Hirsch M, Ball E, et al. Music as an aid for postoperative recovery in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2015;386:1659–1671.
Copyright © 2017 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.