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The most common side effect of epidural or spinal anesthesia is hypotension with functional hypovolemia prompting fluid infusions or administration of vasopressors. Short-term studies (20 min) in patients undergoing lumbar epidural anesthesia suggest that plasma volume may increase when hypotension is present, which may have implications for the choice of treatment of hypotension. However, no long-term information or measurements of plasma volumes with or without hypotension after epidural anesthesia are available.In 12 healthy volunteers, the authors assessed plasma (125I-albumin) and erythrocyte (51Cr-EDTA) volumes before and 90 min after administration of 10 ml bupivacaine, 0.5%, via a thoracic epidural catheter (T7–T10). After 90 min (t = 90), subjects were randomized to administration of fluid (7 ml/kg hydroxyethyl starch) or a vasopressor (0.2 mg/kg ephedrine), and 40 min later (t = 130), plasma and erythrocyte volumes were measured. At the same time points, mean corpuscular volume and hematocrit were measured. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and hemoglobin were measured every 5 min throughout the study. Volume kinetic analysis was performed for the volunteers receiving hydroxyethyl starch.Plasma volume did not change per se after thoracic epidural anesthesia despite a decrease in blood pressure. Plasma volume increased with fluid administration but remained unchanged with vasopressors despite that both treatments had similar hemodynamic effects. Hemoglobin concentrations were not significantly altered by the epidural blockade or ephedrine administration but decreased significantly after hydroxyethyl starch administration. Volume kinetic analysis showed that the infused fluid expanded a rather small volume, approximately 1.5 l. The elimination constant was 56 ml/min.Thoracic epidural anesthesia per se does not lead to changes in blood volumes despite a reduction in blood pressure. When fluid is infused, there is a dilution, and the fluid initially seems to be located centrally. Because administration of hydroxyethyl starch and ephedrine has similar hemodynamic effects, the latter may be preferred in patients with cardiopulmonary diseases in which perioperative fluid overload is undesirable.