In upper abdominal or chest surgery, the segmental approach to thoracic epidural space has the advantage of reducing the total dose of local anesthetic needed. This approach, however, is associated with greater risk of neurologic damage or dural puncture. The aim of this study was to assess the success and the degree of difficulty in advancing a 19-G catheter from the lumbar epidural space to the thoracic level in patients aged 0–96 months.Methods
In 39 patients undergoing abdominal surgery, the cutaneous distance between the L4-L5 and T10-T11 interspaces was measured, and an appropriate length of 19-G catheter was inserted into the epidural space through an 18-G Tuohy needle with bevel directed cephalad. The intent was to advance the full length of catheter measured to reach the objective. The tips were observed radiologically, and all those positioned cephalad to the T12 level were considered well placed. The degree of difficulty in advancing the catheter was classified as easy, difficult, or impossible. Complications reported were vascular and/or spinal puncture and difficulty removing the catheter.Results
The catheter tip reached T10-T12 in 7 patients, L2 in 1, L3 in 8, and L4-L5 in 23. Forty-eight percent of the catheters described as easily advanced remained at the L4-L5 level, and only 22% reached the desired level. Difficult insertions occurred in eight patients, in whom the objective was never reached. One case of intravascular insertion was reported. All catheters were removed without difficulty.Conclusions
The 19-G catheter is inappropriate for use in reaching the thoracic epidural space by the lumbar approach. Easy entrance of a catheter is not a reliable sign of having reached the desired level.