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Survey of epidural analgesia management in general intensive care units in England

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The management of epidural analgesia is controversial. Many intensive care unit (ICU) patients may benefit from this form of analgesia but have one or more contraindications to its use. Sepsis, coagulopathy, insertion in a sedated, ventilated patient, and lack of consent are common problems in ICU patients. Little has been published to help guide practice in this area. I wished to establish the current practice of the management of epidural analgesia in general ICUs in England when relative or absolute contraindications occur, in order to determine the current standard of care for placement and use of epidural analgesia in ICU patients. Methods:

A postal questionnaire survey of the management of epidural analgesia in critically ill patients was sent to the named clinical director of all (216) general ICUs in England. Results:

Responses were received from 159 (75%) units: 89% of responding units use epidural analgesia but only 51(32%) have a written policy covering its use. Anesthetists or intensivists with an anesthetic background sited all epidural catheters; 68% of units would not site an epidural in a patient with positive blood cultures; but only 52% considered culture negative sepsis (systemic signs of sepsis with no organism isolated) to be a contraindication. Neither lack of consent nor the need for anticoagulation after the catheter had been sited were considered contraindications to inserting an epidural catheter by the majority of respondents. Although 71% of the units would remove an epidural catheter if a patient developed positive blood cultures after it had been sited, the majority of the ICUs did not consider culture negative sepsis and the need for anticoagulation contraindications to maintain a previously sited epidural. Conclusions:

Practice varied considerably with little consensus. Although all the respondents use epidural analgesia in critically ill patients, the indications and contraindications to epidural analgesia remain controversial, and further research is required to help define the role of epidural analgesia in this high-risk group.
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Keywords: complications; epidural analgesia; intensive care; neurological complications

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Intensive Care Unit, Nuffield Department of Anesthetics. The John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK

Publication date: 2002-08-01

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