Update in thoracic epidural anaesthesia

Best Pract Res Clin Anaesthesiol. 2005 Jun;19(2):201-13. doi: 10.1016/j.bpa.2004.12.001.


Thoracic epidural analgesia (TEA) provides optimal perioperative anaesthesia and analgesia after thoracic and major abdominal surgery and decreases postoperative morbidity and mortality, mainly by blocking sympathetic nerve fibres. Surgery leads to a stress response characterized by sympathetic arousal, altered balance of catabolic and anabolic hormones, hypermetabolism, negative protein economy, and altered carbohydrate metabolism and immune function. A threefold increase of the plasma level of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) was detected up to 24 hours after surgery. These elevated catecholamine plasma levels are a risk, especially to patients with coronary artery disease, because unlike healthy coronary arteries, the stress response causes a vasoconstriction in arteriosclerotic coronary arteries. TEA results in a vasodilation in stenotic coronary arteries. In patients with instable angina pectoris, TEA reduced the number as well as the duration of episodes of cardiac ischaemia. Furthermore, TEA improves myocardial structure and function after coronary artery bypass grafting. Plasma levels of troponin T and I, as well as of atrial natriuretic peptides, were reduced and echocardiographic parameters of the ventricular wall motion were improved by TEA. Patients showed fewer arrhythmic episodes and postoperative myocardial infarction, and could be extubated earlier. The positive effects of TEA after coronary artery bypass grafting are not limited to a short postoperative period, the 2-year mortality rate also seems to be reduced. Optimized pain control and early mobilization decrease the riskof pulmonary complications, resulting in a shortened stay in intensive care units. In combination with early enteral nutrition, TEA leads to an earlier return of gastrointestinal function. Patients treated with thoracic epidural anaesthesia and analgesia have a better health-related quality of life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Epidural* / adverse effects
  • Anesthesia, Epidural* / mortality
  • Anesthetics / adverse effects
  • Coronary Circulation / physiology
  • Drug Interactions
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Humans
  • Immunity / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Pain Management
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology
  • Thorax
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anesthetics