Background and objectives: Current guidelines from the American Society of Regional Anesthesia state that an international normalized ratio (INR) of 1.4 is the upper limit of warfarin anticoagulation for safe removal of an epidural catheter. However, these guidelines are based primarily on expert consensus, and there is controversy regarding this recommendation as being "too conservative."
Methods: Prospective (3211) and retrospective (1154) patients undergoing total joint replacement followed by daily warfarin thromboprophylaxis were enrolled in this observational study. All nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anticoagulants were held before surgery, and all patients had normal coagulation test results before surgery. Patients were followed twice a day by the acute pain service, no other anticoagulants except nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were administered, and epidural analgesia was discontinued per institutional protocol. Only patients with INR greater than 1.4 at the time of removal of epidural catheter were included. Neurologic checks were performed for 24 hrs after removal.
Results: A total of 4365 patients were included, and 79% underwent knee replacement and 18% hip replacement. Mean age was 68 yrs, and mean weight was 81 kg. Mean (SD) duration of epidural analgesia was 2.1 (0.6) days. Mean (SD) INR at the time of epidural removal was 1.9 (0.4), ranging from 1.5 to 7.1. No spinal hematomas were observed (0% incidence with 95% confidence interval, 0%-0.069%).
Conclusions: Our series of 4365 patients had uncomplicated removal of epidural catheters despite INRs ranging from 1.5 to 5.9. Removal was only during initiation of warfarin therapy (up to approximately 50 hrs after warfarin intake) when several vitamin K factors are likely to still be adequate for hemostasis.