Non-analgetic effects of thoracic epidural anaesthesia

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Abstract

Purpose of review

This review presents a brief overview of the non-analgetic effects of thoracic epidural anaesthesia. It covers the cardiac, pulmonary and gastrointestinal effects of thoracic epidural anaesthesia. The results of newer studies are of particular importance regarding mortality and major morbidity after thoracic epidural anaesthesia.

Recent findings

The clinical effects of thoracic epidural anaesthesia are mainly attributed to a transient thoracic sympathetic block affecting different organs. Furthermore, local anaesthetic itself reabsorbed from the epidural space may contribute to the non-analgetic effects of thoracic epidural anaesthesia. Experimental studies have suggested that thoracic epidural anaesthesia may attenuate the perioperative stress response after major surgery. The possible beneficial mechanisms of action include an improvement of left ventricular function by direct anti-ischaemic effects, a reduction in cardiovascular complications, an advance on gastrointestinal function, and a reduction in pulmonary complications, as well as a positive impact on the coagulation system and the postoperative inflammatory response. However, it is questionable whether these effects of thoracic epidural anaesthesia may lead to an improved perioperative outcome after major surgery. Recent studies have suggested that, despite the superior quality of pain relief and better quality of life, thoracic epidural anaesthesia does not reduce mortality and major morbidity, especially after major abdominal and cardiac surgery.

Summary

Despite this controversy, the numerous positive effects and advantages of thoracic epidural anaesthesia are the reasons for its increasing popularity. However, the advantages of thoracic epidural anaesthesia must be incorporated into a multimodal treatment management aimed at improving outcomes after surgery.

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