Anaesthesia for chronic spinal cord lesions

Anaesthesia. 1998 Mar;53(3):273-89. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2044.1998.00337.x.


Increasing numbers of patients with spinal cord injury present for surgery or obstetric care. Spinal cord injury causes unique pathophysiological changes. The most important peri-operative dangers are autonomic dysreflexia, bradycardia, hypotension, respiratory inadequacy and muscle spasms. Autonomic dysreflexia is suggested by headache, sweating, bradycardia and severe hypertension and may be precipitated by surgery, especially bladder distension. Patients with low, complete lesions, undergoing surgery below the level of injury, may safely do so without anaesthesia provided there is no history of autonomic dysreflexia or troublesome spasms. An anaesthetist should be present to monitor the patient in this situation. General anaesthesia of sufficient depth is effective at controlling spasms and autonomic dysreflexia but hypotension and respiratory dysfunction are risks. There is a growing consensus that spinal anaesthesia is safe, effective and technically simple to perform in this group of patients. We present a survey of 515 consecutive anaesthetics in cord-injured patients and a review of the current literature on anaesthesia for patients with chronic spinal cord lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia, Obstetrical / methods
  • Anesthesia / methods*
  • Anesthesia, Conduction / methods
  • Anesthesia, General / methods
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscular Diseases / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / surgery*