The operative treatment of elderly patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has often been avoided in favor of medical management because of a perceived increase in surgical risk. This study sought to define the following in the elderly IBD patient population: (1) the risk of surgical management and (2) those factors affecting risk. Thirty patients with IBD, aged 60 years or more, who were surgically managed by a single surgeon over a 10-year period, were retrospectively matched to 75 patients with IBD who were less than 60 years of age; patients were matched according to sex, date of surgery, and type of surgery performed. Regression analysis using generalized estimating equation methodology to account for the matched clusters of patients was performed to evaluate the effect of age group on the complication rate, operating room time, and length of hospital stay. Presence of comorbid conditions, surgical indications, prior surgery for IBD, and the use of immunosuppressive medications were studied in multivariate models, adjusting for age group. By means of univariate analysis, the odds of complications in elderly IBD patients were shown to be statistically higher than the odds seen in younger patients (47% vs. 20%, P = 0.01). Also observed in the elderly group were a longer length of hospital stay (11.5 days vs. 7.1 days, P = 0.001) and longer operating room time (249 minutes vs. 212 minutes, P = 0.02). Multivariate analysis revealed that the effect of age remained statistically significant, even when adjusted for potential confounding variables such as comorbidity, medications, date of diagnosis of IBD, and indications for surgery. The complication outcome was significantly associated with the surgical indication, with obstruction, fistula, and bleeding having increased odds of complications as compared with other indications (odds ratio = 1.7 vs. 4.2 vs. 7.2, respectively, P = 0.02). The length of hospital stay similarly was significantly associated with the surgical indication (fistula, 10.5 days vs. bleeding, 9.8 days vs. obstruction, 7.4 days vs. other, 9.3 days; P = 0.04) and a history of prior surgery. A significant interaction for length of hospital stay was present between age group and prior surgery status (with prior surgery: old, 18 days vs. young, 6.4 days, P = 0.0001; without prior surgery: old, 9.5 days vs. young 7.3 days, P = 0.10). Elderly patients with IBD have an increased rate of postoperative complications along with an increased length of hospital stay and increased operating room time. This effect of age persists when adjusted for comorbidity and immunosuppressive therapy. Complications are most dependent on surgical indications, with obstruction being the least and bleeding the worst predictive factors. The longest hospital stay is associated with patients who require surgery for fistulous disease and patients who have undergone previous surgery. The fact that the higher complication rate seen in older patients with IBD is associated with disease-defined surgical indications suggests that IBD in elderly patients may be more aggressive than what is observed in younger individuals.
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