Perioperative morbidity in patients randomized to epidural or general anesthesia for lower extremity vascular surgery.

Christopherson R, Beattie C, Frank SM, Norris EJ, Meinert CL, Gottlieb SO, Yates H, Rock P, Parker SD, Perler BA, et al. Perioperative morbidity in patients randomized to epidural or general anesthesia for lower extremity vascular surgery. Anesthesiology. 1993 Sep;79(3): 422-34.

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Background: Perioperative morbidity may be modifiable in high risk patients by the anesthesiologist’s choice of either regional or general anesthesia. This clinical trial compared outcomes between epidural (EA) and general (GA) anesthesia/analgesia regimens in a group of patients at high risk for cardiac and other morbidity who were undergoing similarly stressful surgical procedures.

Methods: One hundred patients scheduled for elective vascular reconstruction of the lower extremities were randomized to receive either EA for surgery followed by epidural analgesia, or GA for surgery followed by intravenous patient-controlled analgesia. Hemodynamic monitoring, blood pressure, and heart rate limits were determined prior to randomization. Management of anesthesia in the immediate postoperative period was standardized. The data collected included continuous electrocardiographic monitoring from the day before surgery through the third postoperative day, serial electrocardiograms, and cardiac enzymes. Cardiac ischemia, myocardial infarction, unstable angina, and cardiac death were identified by a cardiologist blinded to the type of anesthesia received. Other major morbidity was determined at the time of hospital discharge and at 1 and 6 months after surgery.

Results: Eleven patients who received GA required regrafting or an embolectomy during their hospital stay, compared with two patients who received EA. This association of GA with reoperation remained significant after adjustment for baseline differences. Cardiac outcomes were similar in the two groups with respect to perioperative death (1 EA and 1 GA), death within 6 months (4 EA and 3 GA), nonfatal myocardial infarction within 7 days (2 EA and 2 GA), unstable angina (0 EA and 2 GA), and myocardial ischemia following randomization (17 EA and 23 GA). Rates of major infections in the two groups (1 EA and 2 GA), renal failure (3 EA and 3 GA), and pulmonary complications (3 EA and 7 GA) also were similar.

Conclusions: Carefully conducted epidural and general anesthesia appear to be associated with comparable rates of cardiac and most other morbidity in patients undergoing lower extremity vascular surgery. However, compared with general anesthesia, epidural anesthesia is associated with a lower incidence of reoperation for inadequate tissue perfusion and, therefore, may be advantageous for this surgical population.

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