Impact of spinal or epidural anaesthesia on perioperative outcomes in adult noncardiac surgery: a narrative review of recent evidence

Br J Anaesth. 2024 Aug;133(2):380-399. doi: 10.1016/j.bja.2024.04.044. Epub 2024 May 28.


Spinal and epidural anaesthesia and analgesia are important anaesthetic techniques, familiar to all anaesthetists and applied to patients undergoing a range of surgical procedures. Although the immediate effects of a well-conducted neuraxial technique on nociceptive and sympathetic pathways are readily observable in clinical practice, the impact of such techniques on patient-centred perioperative outcomes remains an area of uncertainty and active research. The aim of this review is to present a narrative synthesis of contemporary clinical science on this topic from the most recent 5-year period and summarise the foundational scholarship upon which this research was based. We searched electronic databases for primary research, secondary research, opinion pieces, and guidelines reporting the relationship between neuraxial procedures and standardised perioperative outcomes over the period 2018-2023. Returned citation lists were examined seeking additional studies to contextualise our narrative synthesis of results. Articles were retrieved encompassing the following outcome domains: patient comfort, renal, sepsis and infection, postoperative cancer, cardiovascular, and pulmonary and mortality outcomes. Convincing evidence of the beneficial effect of epidural analgesia on patient comfort after major open thoracoabdominal surgery outcomes was identified. Recent evidence of benefit in the prevention of pulmonary complications and mortality was identified. Despite mechanistic plausibility and supportive observational evidence, there is less certain experimental evidence to support a role for neuraxial techniques impacting on other outcome domains. Evidence of positive impact of neuraxial techniques is best established for the domains of patient comfort, pulmonary complications, and mortality, particularly in the setting of major open thoracoabdominal surgery. Recent evidence does not strongly support a significant impact of neuraxial techniques on cancer, renal, infection, or cardiovascular outcomes after noncardiac surgery in most patient groups.

Keywords: epidural anaesthesia; general anaesthesia; patient-reported outcome measures; perioperative care; spinal anaesthesia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anesthesia, Epidural* / methods
  • Anesthesia, Spinal* / methods
  • Humans
  • Perioperative Care / methods
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / methods
  • Treatment Outcome