Use of dural-puncture epidural (DPE) shortened the onset time to surgical anesthesia by approximately 3 minutes, compared with standard epidural in patients undergoing cesarean delivery, based on data from 140 individuals.
DPE, while not new, has become more popular as an option for initiating labor analgesia, but data comparing DPE with standard epidural in conversion to surgical anesthesia for cesarean deliveries are limited, Nadir Sharawi, MD, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, and colleagues wrote.
DPE involves no injection of intrathecal drugs, and the potential advantages include easier translocation of epidural medications into the intrathecal space for improved analgesia, but the effects of DPE on the onset and reliability of surgical anesthesia remain unknown, they said.
In a study published in JAMA Network Open, the researchers randomized 70 women scheduled for cesarean delivery of singleton pregnancies to DPE and 70 to a standard epidural. The participants were aged 18 years and older, with a mean age of the 30.1 years; the study was conducted between April 2019 and October 2022 at a single center.
The primary outcome was the time to the loss of sharp sensation at T6, defined as “the start of epidural extension anesthesia (time zero on the stopwatch) to when the patient could no longer feel sharp sensation at T6 (assessed bilaterally at the midclavicular line),” the researchers wrote.
The onset time to surgical anesthesia was faster in the DPE group, compared with the standard group, with a median of 422 seconds versus 655 seconds.
A key secondary outcome was a composite measure of the quality of epidural anesthesia that included failure to achieve a T10 bilateral block preoperatively in the delivery room, failure to achieve a surgical block at T6 within 15 minutes of chloroprocaine administration, requirement for intraoperative analgesia, repeat neuraxial procedure, and conversion to general anesthesia. The composite rates of lower quality anesthesia were significantly less in the DPE group, compared with the standard group (15.7% vs. 36.3%; P = .007).
Additional secondary outcomes included maternal satisfaction and pain score during surgery, adverse events, opioid use in the first 24 hours, maternal vasopressor requirements, epidural block assessments, and neonatal outcomes. No significant differences in these outcomes were noted between the groups, and no instances of local anesthetic systemic toxicity or neurological complications were reported.
The findings were limited by several factors including the study population of women scheduled for cesarean delivery and not in labor, and the inability to detect less frequent complications such as post–dural-puncture headache and accidental dural puncture, the researchers noted.
In addition, the results may vary with the use of other combinations of local anesthetics and opioids. “Chloroprocaine was chosen in this study because of its ease of administration without the need for opioids and other additives along with the low risk of systemic toxic effects, which favors rapid administration for emergent cesarean delivery,” they wrote.
However, the results show an association between DPE within an hour of epidural extension for elective cesarean delivery and a faster onset of anesthesia, improved block quality, and a more favorable ratio of risks versus benefits, compared with the use of standard epidural, the researchers concluded.
No need for general anesthesia?
“There is controversy over whether the dural puncture epidural technique improves labor analgesia when compared to a standard epidural,” Dr. Shawari said in an interview. “However, there are limited data on whether the dural puncture epidural technique decreases the onset time to surgical anesthesia when compared to a standard epidural for cesarean delivery. This is important as a pre-existing epidural is commonly used to convert labor analgesia to surgical anesthesia in the setting of urgent cesarean delivery. A faster onset of epidural anesthesia could potentially avoid the need for general anesthesia in an emergency.”
The researchers were not surprised by the findings given their experience with performing dural puncture epidurals for labor analgesia, Dr. Shawari said. In those cases, DPE provided a faster onset when converting cesarean anesthesia, compared with a standard epidural.
The takeaway from the current study is that DPE also provided “a faster onset and improved quality of anesthesia when compared to standard epidural for elective cesarean delivery,” Dr. Shawari said. However, additional research is needed to confirm the findings for intrapartum cesarean delivery.
Progress in improving pain control
“Adequate pain control during cesarean delivery is incredibly important,” Catherine Albright, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Washington, Seattle, said in an interview. “Inadequate pain control leads to the need to provide additional intravenous medications or the need to be put under general anesthesia, which changes the birth experience and is more dangerous for the birthing person and the neonate.
“In my clinical experience, there are many times when patients do not have adequate pain control during a cesarean delivery,” said Dr. Albright, who was not involved in the current study. “I am pleased to see that there is research underway about how to best manage pain on labor and delivery, especially in the setting of conversion from labor anesthesia to cesarean anesthesia.”
The findings may have implications for clinical practice, said Dr. Albright. If the dural puncture epidural can improve cesarean anesthesia following an epidural during labor, rather than anesthesia provided for an elective cesarean), “then I believe it would reduce the number of patients who require additional pain medication, have a poor cesarean experience, and/or need to be put under general anesthesia.”
However, “as noted by the authors, additional research is needed to further determine possible risks and side effects from this technique, and also to ensure that it also works in the setting of labor, rather than for an elective cesarean,” Dr. Albright added.
The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Albright had no financial conflicts to disclose.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.