Does spinal anesthesia result in a more complete sympathetic block than that from epidural anesthesia?

R. A. Stevens*, D. Beardsley, J. L. White, T. C. Kao, R. Gantt, S. Holman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Spinal and epidural injection of local anesthetics are used to produce sympathetic block to diagnose and treat certain chronic pain syndromes. It is not clear whether either form of regional anesthesia produces a complete sympathetic block. Spinal anesthesia using tetracaine has been reported to produce a decrease in plasma catecholamine concentrations. This has not been demonstrated for epidural anesthesia in humans with level of anesthesia below C8. One possible explanation is that spinal anesthesia results in a more complete sympathetic block than epidural anesthesia. To examine this question, a cross-over study was performed in young, healthy volunteers. Methods: Ten subjects underwent both spinal and epidural anesthesia with lidocaine (plain) on the same day with complete recovery between blocks. By random assignment, spinal anesthesia and epidural anesthesia were induced via lumbar injection. Before and 30 min after local anesthetic injection, a cold pressor test (CPT) was performed. Blood was obtained to determine epinephrine and norepinephrine plasma concentrations at four stages: (1) 20 min after placing peripheral catheters, (2) at the end of a 2-min CPT (before conduction block), (3) 30 min after injection of epidural or spinal lidocaine, and (4) at the end of a second CPT (during anesthesia). Mean arterial pressure, heart rate, noninvasive cardiac index, and analgesia to pin-prick were monitored. Results: Neither spinal nor epidural anesthesia changed baseline resting values of catecholamines or any hemodynamic variable, except heart rate, which was slightly decreased during spinal anesthesia. Median level of analgesia was T4 during spinal and T3 during epidural anesthesia. CPT before conduction block reliably increased heart rate, mean arterial pressure, cardiac index, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Conduction block attenuated the increase in response to CPT only in mean arterial pressure (spinal and epidural) and cardiac index (spinal only). Neither technique blocked the increase in heart rate, norepinephrine, or epinephrine to CPT. Conclusions: Spinal anesthesia did not result in a more complete attenuation of the sympathetic response to a CPT than did epidural anesthesia. In response to the CPT, spinal anesthesia blocked the increase in cardiac index, and epidural anesthesia resulted in a decrease in total peripheral resistance compared to the pre-anesthesia state. The differences between the techniques are not significant and are of uncertain clinical implications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-883
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Anesthesia techniques: epidural; spinal
  • Anesthetics, local: lidocaine
  • Sympathetic block
  • Sympathetic nervous system


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