Complications of continuous epidural infusions for postoperative analgesia in children

Can J Anaesth. 1994 Jul;41(7):613-20. doi: 10.1007/BF03010002.


To determine the incidences of side effects and complications associated with the use of epidural analgesia for infants and children at the Alberta Children's Hospital, we reviewed our experience over a two-year period. A database was established for recording management, side effects and complications of each epidural, and this is a retrospective review of that database. Problems were identified as complications if there was a need for medical intervention related to the patient complaint, and if the intervention was documented in the patient record. Continuous epidural analgesia with bupivacaine 0.125% or bupivacaine 0.1% with epinephrine was used for managing postoperative pain in 190 children with mean age 5.6 yr (range 1 mo to 18 yr) and the mean weight 22 kg (range 4-88 kg). Mean duration of the epidural infusions was 4.7 days (range 1-16 d). In 127 patients, 203 complications were recorded. Complications, in order of frequency, were nausea and vomiting (23% of patients), motor blockade (15.8% of patients), over-sedation (6.3% of patients), and pruritus (5.2% of patients). Four patients had complications which were potentially related to toxic effects of, or resistance to, bupivacaine, and serum levels of bupivacaine were measured at 3.86, 5.5, 2.1 and 2.34 Early discontinuation of the epidural occurred in 41 cases, technical problems with the epidural catheter being the commonest reason (21 cases). Although three potentially serious complications were identified (one catheter site infection, one seizure, one respiratory depression) none was associated with lasting consequences. The majority of complications associated with the use of epidurals were minor and easily remedied.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analgesia
  • Analgesia, Epidural / adverse effects*
  • Analgesia, Epidural / instrumentation
  • Analgesia, Epidural / methods
  • Bacterial Infections
  • Bupivacaine / administration & dosage
  • Bupivacaine / adverse effects*
  • Bupivacaine / blood
  • Catheterization / adverse effects
  • Catheterization / instrumentation
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Fentanyl / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control*
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seizures / chemically induced
  • Sleep Stages / drug effects
  • Tachyphylaxis
  • Time Factors
  • Ureter / surgery


  • Fentanyl
  • Bupivacaine