Tests to evaluate intravenous placement of epidural catheters in laboring women: a prospective clinical study

Anesth Analg. 1998 May;86(5):985-8. doi: 10.1097/00000539-199805000-00013.


We prospectively evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of an epinephrine-containing epidural test dose (EpiTD) as a marker of intravascular injection in 209 unmedicated laboring women. Maternal heart rate (MHR) was continuously monitored and recorded on a strip chart. A tocodynamometer monitored uterine activity. A lumbar epidural catheter was placed and aspirated. If aspiration was positive for blood or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the catheter was replaced. In uterine diastole and with stable MHR, 198 patients received an EpiTD (epinephrine 15 microg plus lidocaine 45 mg) via the catheter. MHR and the generated HR strip were observed. A positive EpiTD was defined as a sudden increase in MHR of 10 bpm more than the resting MHR, within one minute after the injection, with a fast acceleratory phase of more than 1 bpm. Absence of a tachycardiac response suggested a negative EpiTD. If the tachycardiac response was deemed equivocal or a uterine contraction followed the EpiTD injection within 1 min, the EpiTD was invalidated and repeated. Catheter aspiration was repeated, and the catheter was removed if aspiration was positive. All patients with negative EpiTD and aspiration received 6-12 mL of epidural bupivacaine 0.25% with or without fentanyl 50 microg. Absence of analgesia without signs or symptoms of systemic toxicity after a maximum of bupivacaine 30 mg defined failed epidural analgesia. All patients with positive EpiTD and negative aspiration received 5 mL of lidocaine 2% epidurally as a second test dose (Lido100TD). The presence of tinnitus and/or metallic taste defined a positive Lido100TD. There were 176 true negatives, 0 false negatives, 14 true positives, and 8 false positives. The sensitivity of EpiTD was 100%, the specificity 96%, the negative predictive value 100%, and the positive predictive value 63%. The prevalence of negative tests was 88%, and the prevalence of positive tests was 12%. The overall accuracy of an EpiTD was 95.5%. We conclude that EpiTD is a reliable test to identify i.v. catheters during the performance of lumbar epidural analgesia in laboring patients.

Implications: Catheters inserted for epidural analgesia in laboring patients may accidentally enter a blood vessel. Local anesthetics injected through these catheters may cause seizures and cardiac arrest. In this study, we concluded that injecting a small amount of epinephrine before injecting a local anesthetic frequently helps to identify these misplaced catheters. Few catheters may actually be in the correct place even after responses to epinephrine.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia, Epidural*
  • Analgesia, Obstetrical*
  • Catheterization / adverse effects*
  • Epinephrine*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Uterine Contraction


  • Epinephrine