Updated perioperative guidance says when to hold antirheumatics


The American College of Rheumatology and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons have released updated guidelines regarding whether to withhold drugs such as biologics and immunosuppressives for patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease who are scheduled to undergo elective total hip or knee replacement surgery.

The guidelines, published in a summary by the societies on Feb. 28, include revised and new recommendations about biologics and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors for patients with several types of inflammatory arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In general, the guidelines recommend that the most powerful medications be withheld prior to surgery except for patients whose SLE is so severe that it threatens organs. They also recommend a shorter period of withholding drugs – 3 days instead of 7 – for JAK inhibitors.

The previous guidelines were published in 2017.

“These recommendations seek to balance flares of disease that are likely when medications are stopped vs. the risk of infection,” Susan M. Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, and co–principal investigator of the guideline, told this news organization. “Patients and physicians may want to be either more conservative or more aggressive with their medications, depending on their personal priorities or specific medical history.”

Dr. Susan M. Goodman, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York

Dr. Susan M. Goodman

According to Dr. Goodman, patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases are especially likely to undergo joint replacement surgery because the conditions can damage the joints. “While the introduction of potent biologics has been linked to a decrease in surgery of soft tissues and small joints, there has been little impact on large-joint surgeries,” she said.

The risk of infection in these patients is about 50% higher than in the general population, she said. However, “it is hard to determine the magnitude of the effect of withholding medications, given the low rate of infection. In fact, using pharmaco-epidemiologic methods in large Medicare databases, no difference was seen in patients whose immunosuppressant medication infusions were close to the time of surgery compared to those patients whose medication infusions were months prior to surgery.”

The guidelines add a recommendation for the first time for apremilast (Otezla), saying that when it is administered twice daily it is okay to schedule surgery at any time.

Withholding drugs in patients with SLE

“We now recommend continuing biologics used to treat SLE – rituximab and belimumab – in patients with severe SLE but continue to recommend withholding them in less severe cases where there is little risk of organ damage,” Bryan D. Springer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Charlotte, N.C., first vice president of the AAHKS, and co–principal investigator of the new guidelines, told this news organization.

Dr. Bryan D. Springer, an orthopedic surgeon in Charlotte, N.C.

Dr. Bryan D. Springer

In severe SLE cases, the guidelines recommend timing total joint replacement surgery for 4-6 months after the latest IV dose of rituximab (Rituxan), which is given every 4-6 months. For patients taking belimumab (Benlysta), time surgery anytime when weekly subcutaneous doses are administered or at week 4 when monthly IV doses are given.

The guidelines also make recommendations regarding two new drugs for the treatment of severe SLE:


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