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Ultrasound-Guided Regional Anesthesia and Patient Safety: Update of an Evidence-Based Analysis
  1. Joseph M. Neal, MD
  1. From the Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA
  1. Address correspondence to: Joseph M. Neal, MD, 1100 Ninth Ave (B2-AN), Seattle, WA 98111 (e-mail: Joseph.Neal{at}


In 2010, the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine's evidence-based medicine assessment of ultrasound (US)-guided regional anesthesia (UGRA) analyzed the effect of this nerve localization technology on patient safety. That analysis focused on 4 important regional anesthesia complications: peripheral nerve injury, local anesthetic systemic toxicity (LAST), hemidiaphragmatic paresis (HDP), and pneumothorax. In the intervening 5 years, further research has allowed us to refine our original conclusions. This update reviews previous findings and critically evaluates new literature published since late 2009 that compares the patient safety attributes of UGRA with those of traditional nerve localization methods. As with the previous version of this exercise, analysis focused on randomized controlled trials that compared UGRA with an alternative neural localization method and case series of more than 500 patients. The Jadad score was used to grade individual study quality, and conclusions were graded as to strength of evidence. Of those randomized controlled trials identified by our search techniques, 28 compared the incidence of postoperative nerve symptoms, 27 assessed LAST parameters, 7 studied HDP, and 9 reported the incidence of pneumothorax. The current analysis strengthens our original conclusions that US guidance has no significant effect on the incidence of postoperative neurologic symptoms and that UGRA reduces the incidence and intensity of HDP but does so in an unpredictable manner. Conversely, emerging evidence supports the effectiveness of US guidance for reducing LAST across its clinical presentation continuum. The predicted frequency of pneumothorax has grown smaller in tandem with increased experience with US-guided supraclavicular block. This evidence-based review summarizes both the power and the limitations of UGRA as a tool for improving patient safety.

What's New Since the original 2010 publication of this analysis, evidence has continued to support the concept that ultrasound (US) guidance does not meaningfully affect the incidence of peripheral nerve injury (PNI) associated with regional anesthesia. Similar confirmatory evidence attests to US guidance reducing the incidence and intensity of hemidiaphragmatic paresis (HDP) but not eliminating it. Literature published since late 2009 reports the effective role of US guidance in reducing the incidence of local anesthetic systemic toxicity and allows calculation of a lower predicted frequency of pneumothorax associated with US-guided supraclavicular blocks.

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  • The author declares no conflict of interest.