Subarachnoid or epidural needle placement in an anesthetized patient is controversial because general anesthesia and muscle relaxation may mask neural trauma. However, placement of a needle or catheter in the subarachnoid space for the purpose of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) drainage is frequently performed in anesthetized patients undergoing neurosurgery. The records from 530 consecutive transsphenoidal surgeries performed with lumbar CSF drainage were reviewed to determine the types of neurologic complications attributable to spinal drainage and their rates of occurrence. All patients were anesthetized during CSF drain placement. A 19-gauge malleable needle was placed in 473 (89%) patients. Subarachnoid catheters (20- or 16-gauge catheters placed via 18- or 14-gauge epidural needles, respectively) were placed in 17 (3%) patients. In 40 (8%) patients, the type of drain was unspecified. No new neurologic deficits attributable to spinal drain insertion were detected in the immediate postoperative period or within 1 yr of surgery. Thirteen patients developed postdural puncture headache (2.5%, exact 95% confidence interval 1.3%-4.2%); seven required epidural blood patch (1.3%, 0.5%-2.7%). The low incidence (0%, 0.0%-0.7%) of neurologic injury from spinal drain insertion in anesthetized patients from this study is similar to the incidence of neurologic complications historically reported for both CSF drain insertion and spinal anesthesia.
Implications: The performance of regional anesthesia in an anesthetized patient is controversial due to the possibility of unrecognized nerve injury. We report no cases of nerve injury caused by the placement of cerebrospinal fluid drainage needles and catheters in 530 anesthetized patients undergoing neurosurgery.