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In recent decades, the incidences of anaesthesia-related perioperative mortality and adverse outcomes have decreased drastically. However, to date, data on perioperative cardiac arrest and risk factors of perioperative cardiac arrest from European countries are scarce.To determine the incidences of perioperative cardiac arrest and rates of anaesthesia-related and anaesthesia-contributory cardiac arrest. Identification of pre-existing risk factors leading to perioperative cardiac arrest.Retrospective cohort study.Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, University Hospital of Cologne, Germany.Perioperative critical incident reports between 2007 and 2012 were screened, and reports on cardiac arrest within 24 h postoperatively were identified. Cardiac arrests were classified as ‘anaesthesia-related’, ‘anaesthesia-contributory’ or ‘anaesthesia-unrelated’ by two reviewers independently. Univariate and multi-variate logistic regression analysis was used to identify risk factors associated with perioperative cardiac arrest.Analysis of 318 critical incidents from 169 500 anaesthetics revealed 99 perioperative cardiac arrests. This is an overall incidence of perioperative cardiac arrest of 5.8/10 000 anaesthetics [95% confidence interval (CI), 4.7 to 7.0]. The rate of anaesthesia-related cardiac arrest was 0.7/10 000 (95% CI, 0.3 to 1.1), and the rate of anaesthesia-contributory cardiac arrest was 1.7/10 000 (95% CI, 1.1 to 2.3). Most cardiac arrests related to anaesthesia were due to respiratory events. From the multi-variate analysis, American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status grade at least 3 [P = 0.007, odds ratio (OR) 2.59 (95% CI, 1.29 to 5.19)], emergency surgery [P< 0.001, OR 4.00 (95% CI, 2.15 to 7.54)] and pre-existing cardiomyopathy [P < 0.001, OR 17.48 (95% CI, 6.18 to 51.51)] emerged as predictors of cardiac arrest.These first available European data on perioperative cardiac arrest from a large unselected cohort indicate that the overall perioperative incidence of cardiac arrest at our institution was slightly lower than published in the literature, whereas rates of anaesthesia-related and anaesthesia-contributory cardiac arrest were comparable. Most cardiac arrests related to anaesthesia were due to respiratory events. American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status grade at least 3, emergency surgery and pre-existing cardiomyopathy appear to be relevant risk factors for cardiac arrest.