Evidence-based clinical update: general anesthesia and the risk of delirium and postoperative cognitive dysfunction

Can J Anaesth. 2006 Jul;53(7):669-77. doi: 10.1007/BF03021625.


Purpose: The purpose of this structured, evidence-based, clinical update was to identify the best evidence comparing general and regional anesthesia and their influence on delirium or cognitive dysfunction (POCD) in the postoperative period.

Source: In June 2005 a structured search of MEDLINE from 1966 to present using OVID software was undertaken. Medical subject headings and textwords describing both delirium and POCD were employed. OVID's Therapy (sensitivity) algorithm was used to maximize the detection of randomized trials. The bibliographies of eligible publications were hand-searched to identify trials not identified in the electronic search. Publications enrolling children were excluded. Levels of evidence and grades of recommendations were scored using Centre for Evidence Based Medicine criteria.

Principal findings: A total of 18 unique randomized controlled trials were identified: two evaluating delirium; ten evaluating POCD; and six evaluating both. Outcomes for delirium were abstracted from eight trials that enrolled 765 patients (387 regional anesthesia; 378 general anesthesia). Outcomes for POCD were identified from 16 trials that enrolled 2,708 patients (1,313 regional anesthesia; 1,395 general anesthesia). Both delirium (11-43%) and POCD (15-25%) were relatively common in trials actively seeking these outcomes. Consistent Level 2b evidence suggests no significant increase in delirium in patients receiving general anesthesia compared with those receiving regional anesthesia. Similarly, consistent Level 1 evidence indicates that exposure to general anesthesia is not significantly associated with POCD.

Conclusion: Available randomized controlled trials suggest that there is no significant difference in the incidence of delirium or POCD when general anesthesia and regional anesthesia are compared.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Conduction / adverse effects
  • Anesthesia, General / adverse effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Delirium / chemically induced*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications / chemically induced*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors