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Can J Anaesth. 1991 Sep;38(6):733-9.

Analgesic and pulmonary effects of continuous intercostal nerve block following thoracotomy.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesia, Toronto Western Division, Toronto Hospital, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


This study examined the beneficial effects and potential systemic toxicity from continuous intercostal nerve block by repeated bolus injections of bupivacaine. In this double-blind, randomized study, 20 post-thoracotomy patients were assigned to receive four doses of either: 20 ml 0.5% bupivacaine with epinephrine 5 (bupivacaine group, n = 10), or 20 ml preservative-free saline (placebo group, n = 10) through two indwelling intercostal catheters every six hours. Patients receiving intercostal bupivacaine injections had greater decreases in visual analogue pain scores (VAS) (P less than 0.05) and lower 24 hr morphine requirements, 16.6 +/- 4.6 mg vs 35.8 +/- 7.2 mg, than patients in the placebo group (P less than 0.05). Higher post-injection values of forced expiratory volume in one second, forced vital capacity and peaked expiratory flow rate were also observed in the bupivacaine group (P less than 0.01). Repeated intercostal bupivacaine administration did lead to systemic accumulation, but the peak bupivacaine level after 400 mg was low at 1.2 +/- 0.2 Thus, the technique of continuous intercostal nerve block described in this study is an effective treatment for the control of post-thoracotomy pain.

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