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Anesth Analg. 2003 Jan;96(1):247-52, table of contents.

Neurologic complications of 405 consecutive continuous axillary catheters.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.


Continuous axillary brachial plexus block may theoretically increase the risk of neurologic complications because of catheter-induced mechanical trauma or local anesthetic toxicity. In this study, we retrospectively reviewed the frequency of complications using current techniques and applications. There were 405 continuous axillary catheters in 368 patients. A preexisting neurologic condition was present in 41 (10.1%) patients, including 30 patients with a preoperative ulnar neuropathy. In 305 (75.3%) cases, the axillary catheter was placed to facilitate rehabilitation after major elbow surgery. Catheters were typically placed postoperatively, after documentation of the patient's normal neurologic examination. The local anesthetic infusion contained bupivacaine in 355 (88.7%) patients and mepivacaine in 45 (11.1%) patients. The mean infusion rate was 10 +/- 2 mL/h. Catheters remained indwelling for 55 +/- 32 h. In 31 patients, the axillary catheter was replaced because of technical problems or inadequate analgesia. There were 9 complications in 8 patients for an overall frequency of 2.2%. Complications included one each of the following: localized infection (treated with catheter removal and antibiotics), axillary hematoma, and retained catheter fragment requiring surgical excision. In addition, two patients reported signs and symptoms of systemic (preseizure) local anesthetic toxicity. Four (1.0%) patients reported new neurologic deficits postoperatively. In two patients, the neural dysfunction was non-anesthesia related. All four had continuous catheters placed after major elbow surgery. We conclude that the risk of neurologic complications associated with continuous axillary blockade is similar to that of single-dose techniques.


We evaluated the risk of neurologic complications in 368 patients undergoing 405 consecutive continuous axillary blocks. New neurologic deficits were reported in four patients. This series suggests that the risk of neurologic complications associated with continuous axillary block is similar to that of single-dose techniques.

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