Heat flow and distribution during epidural anesthesia

Anesthesiology. 1995 Nov;83(5):961-7. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199511000-00008.


Background: Core hypothermia after induction of epidural anesthesia results from both an internal core-to-peripheral redistribution of body heat and a net loss of heat to the environment. However, the relative contributions of each mechanism remain unknown. The authors thus evaluated regional body heat content and the extent to which core hypothermia after induction of anesthesia resulted from altered heat balance and internal heat redistribution.

Methods: Twelve minimally clothed male volunteers were evaluated in a approximately 22 degrees C environment for 2.5 control hours before induction of epidural anesthesia and for 3 subsequent hours. Epidural anesthesia produced a bilateral sympathetic block in only six volunteers, and only their results are reported. Shivering, when observed, was treated with intravenous meperidine. Overall heat balance was determined from the difference between cutaneous heat loss (thermal flux transducers) and metabolic heat production (oxygen consumption). Arm and leg tissue heat contents were determined from 19 intramuscular needle thermocouples, 10 skin temperatures, and "deep" foot temperature. To separate the effects of redistribution and net heat loss, we multiplied the change in overall heat balance by body weight and the specific heat of humans. The resulting change in mean body temperature was subtracted from the change in esophageal or tympanic membrane (core) temperatures, leaving the core hypothermia specifically resulting from redistribution.

Results: Arm heat content decreased approximately 5 kcal/h after induction of anesthesia, but leg heat content increased markedly. Most of the increase in leg heat content was in the lower legs and feet. Core temperature increased slightly during the control period but decreased 0.8 +/- 0.3 degrees C in the 1st hour of anesthesia. Redistribution, contributing 89% to this initial decrease, required a net transfer of 20 kcal from the trunk to the extremities. During the subsequent 2 h of anesthesia, core temperature decreased an additional 0.4 +/- 0.3 degrees C, with redistribution contributing 62%. Thus, only 7 kcal were redistributed during the 2nd and 3rd hours of anesthesia. Redistribution therefore contributed 80% to the entire 1.2 +/- 0.3 degrees C decrease in core temperature during the 3 h of anesthesia.

Conclusions: Core hypothermia during the 1st hour after induction of epidural anesthesia resulted largely from redistribution of body heat from the core thermal compartment to the distal legs. Even after 3 h of anesthesia, redistribution remained the major cause of core hypothermia. Despite the greater fractional contribution of redistribution during epidural anesthesia, core temperature decreased only half as much as during general anesthesia because metabolic rate was maintained and the arms remained vasoconstricted.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Anesthesia / therapeutic use
  • Anesthesia, Epidural*
  • Anesthetics, Local*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / etiology*
  • Lidocaine*
  • Male
  • Meperidine / therapeutic use
  • Shivering
  • Skin Temperature


  • Adjuvants, Anesthesia
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Lidocaine
  • Meperidine