Epidural Analgesia in Cardiac Surgery: An Updated Risk Assessment


  • David Bracco
  • Thomas Hemmerling




Introduction. The use of epidural anesthesia carries risks that have been known for 50 years. The debate about the use of locoregional technique in cardiac anesthesia continues. The objective of this report is to estimate the risks and their variability of a catheter-related epidural hematoma in cardiac surgery patients and to compare it with other anesthetic and medical procedures.

Methods. Case series reporting the use of epidural anesthesia in cardiac surgery were researched through Medline. Additional references were retrieved from the bibliography of published articles and from the internet. Risks of complications in other anesthetic and medical activity were retrieved from recent reviews.

Results. Based on the present evidence, the risk of epidural hematoma in cardiac surgery is 1:12,000 (95% CI of 1:2100 to 1:68,000), which is comparable to the risk in the nonobstetrical population of 1:10,000 (95% CI 1:6700 to 1:14,900). The risk of epidural hematoma is comparable to the risk of receiving a wrong blood product or the yearly risk of having a fatal road accident in Western countries.

Conclusions. The risk of a hematoma after epidural in cardiac surgery is comparable to other nonobstetrical surgical procedures. Its routine application in a controlled setting should be encouraged.


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How to Cite

Bracco, D., & Hemmerling, T. (2007). Epidural Analgesia in Cardiac Surgery: An Updated Risk Assessment. The Heart Surgery Forum, 10(4), E334-E337. https://doi.org/10.1532/HSF98.20071077