Background: Digital ischemia is associated with several rheumatologic disorders and is often difficult to treat. Symptoms and sequelae can include pain, disability, need for amputation, and poor quality of life.
Methods: Patients diagnosed with digital ischemia were referred for an ultrasound-guided axillary nerve block using liposomal bupivacaine (Exparel, Pacira Pharmaceuticals). The primary outcome measure was radial and ulnar artery diameter preprocedure and postprocedure. Doppler waveform analyses were performed to measure arterial diameter and blood flow velocity. The QuickDASH questionnaire was administered to evaluate upper extremity function and perceived disability.
Results: Mean radial and ulnar artery diameters increased from 0.19 cm and 0.16 cm to 0.23 cm and 0.20 cm, respectively, 1 hour postprocedure. Concomitant increases in blood flow velocities and hand temperature and lower pain scores were also noted. Although pain generally returned to baseline after 1 week, QuickDASH symptom/disability scores improved at 30 days, and 2 patients' ischemic symptoms resolved spontaneously during the study period in the absence of other interventions.
Conclusion: Data regarding chemical sympathectomy using regional anesthesia are limited at this time. Our experience suggests a potential role in the treatment and evaluation of digital ischemia. Patients with digital ischemia from rheumatologic conditions appeared to have a greater benefit from a chemical sympathectomy than patients whose conditions had an atherosclerotic or anatomic etiology. Even when the vasodilatory effects are transient, such an intervention may be useful when a more permanent option such as surgical sympathectomy is being considered. Liposomal bupivacaine is only approved for surgical infiltration at this time.
Keywords: Anesthesia–conduction; CREST syndrome; Raynaud disease; bupivacaine; nerve block; scleroderma–systemic; sympathectomy.