Neuromuscular Monitoring in the Perioperative Period

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Neuromuscular monitoring devices were introduced into clinical practice in the 1970s. Qualitative neuromuscular monitors, or peripheral nerve stimulators, provide an electrical stimulus to a motor nerve and the response of corresponding muscle subjectively evaluated. A standard peripheral nerve stimulator provides several patterns of nerve stimulation, including train-of-four (TOF), double-burst, tetanic, and post-tetanic count. Qualitative (and quantitative) monitors are needed to determine onset of neuromuscular blockade, maintain the required depth of muscle relaxation during the surgical procedure, and assess an appropriate dose of reversal agent. However, absence of fade measured with a peripheral nerve stimulator does not exclude residual neuromuscular block; TOF ratios as low as 0.4-0.6 may be present when fade is no longer observed. In addition, the risk of incomplete neuromuscular recovery may be influenced by monitoring site. The adductor pollicis is more sensitive to the effects of neuromuscular blocking agents (compared to the muscles surrounding the eye), and monitoring at this site may more accurately reflect recovery of pharyngeal muscles (the last muscles to recover from the effects of neuromuscular blocking agents, in which dysfunction may persist even at a TOF ratio of 1.0). Quantitative monitors are devices that measure and quantify the degree of muscle weakness and display the results numerically. Several different technologies have been developed, including mechanomyography, electromyography, acceleromyography, kineograph, and phonomyography. Lower doses of anticholinesterases may be used to effectively reverse neuromuscular blockade at TOF ratios of 0.4-0.6; quantitative monitoring is required to determine that this level of neuromuscular recovery has occurred. As clinical tests of muscle strength, peripheral nerve stimulators are unable to determine whether full recovery of neuromuscular function is present at the end of the surgical procedure. The use of quantitative monitors is essential in excluding clinically important muscle weakness (TOF ratios <0.9 to 1.0) at the time of tracheal extubation.

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