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Anesthesiology. 1997 Nov;87(5):1070-4.

Difficult or impossible ventilation after sufentanil-induced anesthesia is caused primarily by vocal cord closure.

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Department of Anesthesiology, Hahnemann Division, Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102-1192, USA.



Opioid-induced rigidity often makes bag-mask ventilation difficult or impossible during induction of anesthesia. Difficult ventilation may result from chest wall rigidity, upper airway closure, or both. This study further defines the contribution of vocal cord closure to this phenomenon.


With institutional review board approval, 30 patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery participated in the study. Morphine (0.1 mg/kg) and scopolamine (6 microg/kg) given intramuscularly provided sedation along with intravenous midazolam as needed. Lidocaine 10% spray provided topical anesthesia of the oropharynx. A fiberoptic bronchoscope positioned in the airway photographed the glottis before induction of anesthesia A second photograph was obtained after induction with 3 microg/kg sufentanil administered during a period of 2 min. A mechanical ventilator provided 10 ml/kg breaths at 10/min via mask and oral airway with jaw thrust. A side-stream spirometer captured objective pulmonary compliance data. Subjective airway compliance was scored. Pancuronium (0.1 mg/kg) provided muscle relaxation. One minute after the muscle relaxant was given, a third photograph was taken and compliance measurements and scores were repeated. Photographs were scored in a random, blinded manner by one investigator. Wilcoxon signed rank tests compared groups, with Bonferroni correction. Differences were considered significant at P < 0.05.


Twenty-eight of 30 patients exhibited decreased pulmonary compliance and closed vocal cords after opioid induction. Two patients with neither objective nor subjective changes in pulmonary compliance had open vocal cords after opioid administration. Both subjective and objective compliances increased from severely compromised values after narcotic-induced anesthesia to normal values (P = 0.000002) after patients received a relaxant. Photo scores document open cords before induction, progressing to closed cords after the opioid (P = 0.00002), and opening again after a relaxant was administered (P = 0.00005).


Closure of vocal cords is the major cause of difficult ventilation after opioid-induced anesthesia.

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