Five percent of adult patients undergoing noncardiac inpatient surgery experience a major pulmonary complication. The authors hypothesized that the choice of neuromuscular blockade reversal (neostigmine vs. sugammadex) may be associated with a lower incidence of major pulmonary complications.


Twelve U.S. Multicenter Perioperative Outcomes Group hospitals were included in a multicenter observational matched-cohort study of surgical cases between January 2014 and August 2018. Adult patients undergoing elective inpatient noncardiac surgical procedures with general anesthesia and endotracheal intubation receiving a nondepolarizing neuromuscular blockade agent and reversal were included. Exact matching criteria included institution, sex, age, comorbidities, obesity, surgical procedure type, and neuromuscular blockade agent (rocuronium vs. vecuronium). Other preoperative and intraoperative factors were compared and adjusted in the case of residual imbalance. The composite primary outcome was major postoperative pulmonary complications, defined as pneumonia, respiratory failure, or other pulmonary complications (including pneumonitis; pulmonary congestion; iatrogenic pulmonary embolism, infarction, or pneumothorax). Secondary outcomes focused on the components of pneumonia and respiratory failure.


Of 30,026 patients receiving sugammadex, 22,856 were matched to 22,856 patients receiving neostigmine. Out of 45,712 patients studied, 1,892 (4.1%) were diagnosed with the composite primary outcome (3.5% sugammadex vs. 4.8% neostigmine). A total of 796 (1.7%) patients had pneumonia (1.3% vs. 2.2%), and 582 (1.3%) respiratory failure (0.8% vs. 1.7%). In multivariable analysis, sugammadex administration was associated with a 30% reduced risk of pulmonary complications (adjusted odds ratio, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.63 to 0.77), 47% reduced risk of pneumonia (adjusted odds ratio, 0.53; 95% CI, 0.44 to 0.62), and 55% reduced risk of respiratory failure (adjusted odds ratio, 0.45; 95% CI, 0.37 to 0.56), compared to neostigmine.


Among a generalizable cohort of adult patients undergoing inpatient surgery at U.S. hospitals, the use of sugammadex was associated with a clinically and statistically significant lower incidence of major pulmonary complications.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Approximately 5% of patients experience a major pulmonary complication after noncardiac surgery

  • Inadequate reversal of neuromuscular blockade increases the risk of pulmonary complications

  • In the United States, sugammadex is used with similar frequency as neostigmine at many hospitals

  • Sugammadex provides more rapid and effective restoration of neuromuscular tone without systemic anticholinergic activity; however, neostigmine currently remains the mainstay of practice

What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • In a multicenter observational matched cohort study of noncardiac surgery, sugammadex administration was associated with a 30% reduced risk of pulmonary complications, a 47% reduced risk of pneumonia, and a 55% reduced risk of respiratory failure compared to neostigmine

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