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Technical Aspects and Postoperative Sequelae of Spinal and Epidural Anesthesia: A Prospective Study of 3,230 Orthopedic Patients
  1. Risto Puolakka, M.D.,
  2. Juhani Haasio, M.D., Ph.D.,
  3. Mikko T. Pitkänen, M.D., Ph.D.,
  4. Markku Kallio, M.D. and
  5. Per H. Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D.
  1. From the Department of Anaesthesiology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Töölö Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.
  1. Reprint requests: Risto Puolakka, M.D., Department of Anaesthesiology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Töölö Hospital, PO Box 266 (Topeliuksenkatu 5), FIN-00029 HYKS, Helsinki, Finland.


Background and Objectives Major complications after spinal or epidural anesthesia are extremely rare. The occurrence of less serious and transient sequelae and complaints may be underestimated if there is no established organization for the systematic and continuous surveillance of patients after anesthesia. This study was designed to evaluate the possible relationship between various block-related occurrences and the intra- and postoperative side effects and complaints.

Methods This prospective study included 3,230 orthopedic patients operated on under neuraxial block. The block was performed by single-dose (single-shot spinal anesthesia [SPIN], 80.6%), continuous spinal anesthesia (CSA, 10.3%), or combined spinal and epidural anesthesia (CSE, 9.1%) technique. The patient position during surgery and a detailed description of block performance and equipment, as well as all intraoperative problems, were immediately recorded. Every patient was given a standardized questionnaire to be completed and returned after 1 week.

Results The overall incidence of paresthesia was 12.8%, being most frequent during spinal catheter insertion with multiple attempts. Postoperative sensory disturbances (numbness, dysesthesia) occurred unrelated to paresthesia elicited by the puncture or catheterization. The failure rates (SPIN, 1.0%; CSA, 1.5%; and CSE, 1.0%) were quite low. Asystole with successful resuscitation, occurred in 1 patient with CSE but, overall, hemodynamic perturbations were more common with the continuous techniques. On the first postoperative day, decreased sensation of the skin was significantly more frequent after the continuous techniques, still present in 6.5% of SPIN patients, 6.1% of CSA patients, and 17.2% of CSE patients 1 week after surgery. These disturbances were also related to the use of a tourniquet and lateral position of the patient during surgery. The frequency of postdural puncture headache (PDPH) was similar for the different techniques (SPIN, 0.9%; CSA, 1.5%; and CSE, 1.7%). About one third of the patients reported strong postoperative pain on the day after the operation, and 5.6% continued to report this at 1 week.

Conclusions Although sensory changes were quite frequent, they were mild and transient. Rather than having been caused by the anesthetic technique, per se, a “nonanesthetic” reason (position, tourniquet, immobilization) should also be considered as their origin. Sensory disturbances, as well as strong pain for at least a week, were reported by several patients, and to become aware of these problems and improve the quality of treatment, a universal regional anesthesia follow-up system is recommended.

  • Spinal anesthesia
  • Epidural anesthesia
  • Postoperative sequelae

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  • Supported by AstraZeneca, Ltd.