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Effect of Local Anesthetic Concentration on Capillary Blood Flow in Human Skin
  1. Jean-Philippe Guinard, M.D.*,
  2. Randall L. Carpenter, M.D.** and
  3. Robert C. Morell, M.D.
  1. Presented in part at the International Symposium of Regional Anesthesia, Williamsburg, Virginia, May 1988.
  2. *From the Service d'Anesthesiologie, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland: the,
  3. **,†Department of Anesthesiology, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington: and the Department of Anesthesia, Bowman Gray, School of Medicine, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
  4. *Research Fellow.
  5. **Staff Anesthesiologist.
  6. Fellow in Regional Anesthesia.
  1. Address correspondence and reprints requests to Randall L. Carpenter, M.D., Department of Anesthesiology B2-AN, P.O. Box 900, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA 98111-0900.


Objectives. The objective of this study was to evaluate and compare the effect of lidocaine, mepivacaine, and bupivacaine on capillary blood flow in humans over therapeutic and subtherapeutic concentrations.

Methods. The effect of each treatment in eight unmedicated male volunteers was measured in a randomized, controlled, double-blind comparison. Each participant received subcutaneous injections (total, 14), at separate sites on the abdomen, consisting of 0.2 ml lidocaine (0.05%, 0.5%, 1%, and 2%), mepivacaine (0.05%, 0.5%, 1%, and 2%), bupivacaine (0.025%, 0.25%, 0.5%, and 0.75%), saline, or saline with epinephrine (5 μg/ml), and at an additional site a needle stick was performed and no injection made. Cutaneous blood flow was measured with a laser Doppler capillary perfusion monitor before and for 60 minutes after these interventions.

Results. The maximum increase in cutaneous blood flow was 277 ± 141% to 511 ± 136% (mean ± SE) after lidocaine, 124 ± 110% to 316 ± 155% after mepivacaine, and 242 ± 193% to 725 ± 198% after bupivacaine. The increase in blood flow depended on local anesthetic concentration: low concentrations induced minimal changes, whereas higher concentrations caused great increases in cutaneous blood flow. Injection of saline or needle stick alone increased cutaneous blood flow 285 ± 237% and 260 ± 121%, respectively.

Conclusions. Our findings indicate that the trauma of needle stick or saline injection produces a significant increase in cutaneous capillary blood flow. Injection of clinically useful concentrations of bupivacaine and lidocaine produced even greater increases in capillary blood flow, indicating a vasodilatory effect. Injection of the lowest concentrations of lidocaine and bupivacaine caused flow to increase to a magnitude similar to that after injection of saline. In contrast, clinically useful concentrations of mepivacaine do not increase capillary blood flow to a greater extent than saline, and lower concentrations tend to blunt the increase in blood flow, indicating a mild vasoconstrictor effect.

  • Anesthetics
  • local
  • lidocaine
  • mepivacaine
  • bupivacaine
  • microcirculation
  • capillary blood flow
  • laser Doppler measurements.

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  • The authors thank Gloria Bailey. Ph.D. for her assistance with the statistical analysis.