Journal of Anesthesia

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 290–299 | Cite as

Epidural anesthesia and pulmonary function

  • Harald Groeben
Review article


The epidural administration of local anesthetics can provide anesthesia without the need for respiratory support or mechanical ventilation. Nevertheless, because of the additional effects of epidural anesthesia on motor function and sympathetic innervation, epidural anesthesia does affect lung function. These effects, i.e., a reduction in vital capacity (VC) and forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1.0), are negligible under lumbar and low thoracic epidural anesthesia. Going higher up the vertebral column, these effects can increase up to 20% or 30% of baseline. However, compared with postoperative lung function following abdominal or thoracic surgery without epidural anesthesia, these effects are so small that the beneficial effects still lead to an improvement in postoperative lung function. These results can be explained by an improvement in pain therapy and diaphragmatic function, and by early extubation. In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, the use of thoracic epidural anesthesia has raised concerns about respiratory insufficiency due to motor blockade, and the risk of bronchial constriction due to sympathetic blockade. However, even in patients with severe asthma, thoracic epidural anesthesia leads to a decrease of about 10% in VC and FEV1.0 and no increase in bronchial reactivity. Overall, epidural administration of local anesthetics not only provides excellent anesthesia and analgesia but also improves postoperative outcome and reduces postoperative pulmonary complications compared with anesthesia and analgesia without epidural anesthesia.

Key words

Postoperative lung function Cardiac surgery COPD Asthma 


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Copyright information

© JSA 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harald Groeben
    • 1
  1. 1.Clinic for Anesthesiology, Pain and Critical Care TherapyClinics Essen-Mitte, Teaching Hospital University Duisburg—EssenEssenGermany

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