Cervical epidural analgesia in current anaesthesia practice: systematic review of its clinical utility and rationale, and technical considerations

Shanthanna, H. et al. British Journal of  Anaesthesia (2016) 116 (2): 192-207.

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Image source: Amin Ashaari

Cervical epidural analgesia (CEA) is an analgesic technique, potentially useful for surgeries involving the upper body. Despite the inherent technical risks and systemic changes, it has been used for various surgeries. There have been no previously published systematic reviews aimed at assessing its clinical utility. This systematic review was performed to explore the perioperative benefits of CEA. The review was also aimed at identifying the rationale of its use, reported surgical indications and the method of use.

We performed a literature search involving PubMed and Embase databases, to identify studies using CEA for surgical indications. Out of 467 potentially relevant articles, 73 articles were selected. Two independent investigators extracted data involving 5 randomized controlled trials, 17 observational comparative trials, and 51 case reports (series). The outcomes studied in most comparative studies were on effects of local anaesthetics and other agents, systemic effects, and feasibility of CEA. In one randomized controlled study, CEA was observed to decrease the resting pain scores after pharyngo-laryngeal surgeries. In a retrospective study, CEA was shown to decrease the cancer recurrence after pharyngeal-hypopharyngeal surgeries.

The limited evidence, small studies, and the chosen outcomes do not allow for any specific recommendations based on the relative benefit or harm of CEA. Considering the potential for significant harm, in the face of better alternatives, its use must have a strong rationale mostly supported by unique patient and surgical demands. Future studies must aim to assess analgesic comparator effectiveness for clinically relevant outcomes.

Read the abstract here

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