Infection during Chronic Epidural Catheterization: Diagnosis and Treatment

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A potentially serious complication of long-term epidural catheterization in cancer patients is infection. The early signs of infection were studied in 350 patients in whom long-term epidural catheters were inserted. Three areas of the catheter track were found to be involved; exit site and superficial catheter track infection, and epidural space infection. The authors identified the early signs of infection in each area and the progress of the infection from the deep track to include the epidural space in four of these patients. All 19 patients who developed deep track or epidural infections were successfully treated with antibiotics and catheter removal. None of the patients required surgery for spinal cord decompression. Catheters were replaced in 15 of the 19 treated patients who requested them after treatment with no recurrent infections. It was concluded that use of long-term epidural catheterization is associated with a definable epidural infection rate. The use of epidural opioid analgesia is an effective and safe means of obtaining pain relief for terminally ill patients when patients are monitored for possible infection and receive prompt treatment when the diagnosis is established.

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