There has been a concern that thoracic epidural analgesia with local anesthetics could decrease lung mechanical function due to effects on the chest wall. A recent study shows that analgesic doses of local anesthetics in thoracic epidurals do not cause a reduction of lung mechanics in a group of patients with severe COPD.

Gruber EM. Tschernko EM. Kritzinger M. Deviatko E. Wisser W. Zurakowski D. Haider W.

Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Anesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine, University of Vienna, Austria.

The effects of thoracic epidural analgesia with bupivacaine 0.25% on ventilatory mechanics in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Anesthesia & Analgesia. 92(4):1015-9, 2001 Apr.

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Optimal analgesia is important after thoracotomy in pulmonary-limited patients to avoid pain-related pulmonary complications. Thoracic epidural anesthesia (TEA) can provide excellent pain relief. However, potential paralysis of respiratory muscles and changes in bronchial tone might be unfavorable in patients with end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Therefore, we evaluated the effect of TEA on maximal inspiratory pressure, pattern of breathing, ventilatory mechanics, and gas exchange in 12 end-stage COPD patients. Pulmonary resistance, work of breathing, dynamic intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure, and peak inspiratory and expiratory flow rates were evaluated by assessing esophageal pressure and airflow. An increase in minute ventilation (7.50 +/- 2.60 vs 8.70 +/- 2.10 L/min; P = 0.04) by means of increased tidal volume (0.46 +/- 0.16 vs 0.53 +/- 0.14 L/breath; P = 0.003) was detected after TEA. These changes were accompanied by an increase in peak inspiratory flow rate (0.48 +/- 0.17 vs 0.55 +/- 0.14 L/s; P = 0.02) and a decrease in pulmonary resistance (20.7 +/- 9.9 vs 16.6 +/- 8.1 cm H(2)O. L(-1). s(-1); P = 0.02). Peak expiratory flow rate, dynamic intrinsic positive end-expiratory pressure, work of breathing, PaO(2), and maximal inspiratory pressure were unchanged (all P > 0.50). We conclude that TEA with bupivacaine 0.25% can be used safely in end-stage COPD patients. IMPLICATIONS: Thoracic epidural anesthesia with bupivacaine 0.25% does not impair ventilatory mechanics and inspiratory respiratory muscle strength in severely limited chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Thus, thoracic epidural anesthesia can be used safely in patients with end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.