Purpose of review: Anesthesia for cardiac surgery has traditionally utilized high-dose opioids to blunt the sympathetic response to surgery. However, recent data suggest that opioids prolong postoperative intubation, leading to increased morbidity. Given the increased risk of opioid dependency after in-hospital exposure to opioids, coupled with an increase in morbidity, regional techniques offer an adjunct for perioperative analgesia. The aim of this review is to describe conventional and emerging regional techniques for cardiac surgery.
Recent findings: Well-studied techniques such as thoracic epidurals and paravertebral blocks are relatively low risk despite lack of widespread adoption. Benefits include reduced opioid exposure after paravertebral blocks and reduced risk of perioperative myocardial infarction after epidurals. To further lower the risk of epidural hematoma and pneumothorax, new regional techniques have been studied, including parasternal, pectoral, and erector spinae plane blocks. Because these are superficial compared with paravertebral and epidural blocks, they may have even lower risks of hematoma formation, whereas patients are anticoagulated on cardiopulmonary bypass. Efficacy data have been promising, although large and generalizable studies are lacking.
Summary: New regional techniques for cardiac surgery may be potent perioperative analgesic adjuncts, but well-designed studies are needed to quantify the effectiveness and safety of these blocks.