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Case Report
2022
:13;
42
doi:
10.25259/SNI_25_2022

Postoperative vasovagal cardiac arrest after spinal anesthesia for lumbar spine surgery

Department of Neurosurgery, Tufts Medical Center, Washington, Boston, United States.
Department of Anesthesiology, Tufts Medical Center, Washington, Boston, United States.
Corresponding author: James Kryzanski, Department of Neurosurgery, Tufts Medical Center, Washington, Boston, United States. jkryzanski@tuftsmedicalcenter.org
Licence

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike 4.0 License, which allows others to remix, transform, and build upon the work non-commercially, as long as the author is credited and the new creations are licensed under the identical terms.

How to cite this article: Keenan C, Wang AY, Balonov K, Kryzanski J. Postoperative vasovagal cardiac arrest after spinal anesthesia for lumbar spine surgery. Surg Neurol Int 2022;13:42.

Abstract

Background:

Spinal anesthesia is being increasingly recognized as a favorable alternative to general anesthesia. However, there are still several considerations for its safe and effective use.

Case Description:

A 62-year-old male received spinal anesthesia during an uneventful L3-L5 decompressive laminectomy. However, he subsequently experienced a brief episode of pulseless electrical activity in the post-anesthesia care unit, and was successfully resuscitated without further sequelae. This was attributed to a vasovagal episode, with his notable prior history of experiencing vasovagal syncope with lightheadedness and fainting at the sight of blood.

Conclusion:

Patients with a history of vasovagal syncope may be predisposed to experiencing brief potentiated episodes of severe bradycardia and even cardiac arrest following spinal anesthesia.

Keywords

Cardiac arrest
Lumbar spine
Pulseless electrical activity
Spinal anesthesia
Vasovagal
PubMed

INTRODUCTION

Spinal anesthesia during lumbar surgery is a safe and effective alternative to general anesthesia for patients across a wide range of ages and health statuses.[1] Most candidates for lumbar surgery are appropriate for spinal anesthesia, but there are certain considerations that may preclude/ limit its use. Here, we present a 62-year-old male who underwent an L3-L5 decompressive laminectomy under spinal anesthesia and experienced a brief postoperative episode of pulseless electrical activity (PEA), deemed to be a vasovagal event.

CASE DESCRIPTION

A 62-year-old male presented with progressive/severe neurogenic claudication. He had a previous L1 burst fracture with fusion surgery 10 years prior, and now has severe L3/L4 and L4/L5 spinal stenosis on imaging [Figure 1]. He also had a notable history of several vasovagal syncopal episodes attributed to needles and blood, a trait shared by several relatives. Following a routine L3-L5 laminectomy with onlay arthrodesis under spinal anesthesia, the patient was brought to the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). He initially reported being lightheaded, and a nurse subsequently noted precipitous bradycardia that progressed to PEA arrest. Chest compressions and the routine arrest protocol were initiated; after 30 s, the patient had return of spontaneous circulation and had an uneventful recovery. Cardiology and electrophysiology concluded that this event was most likely a vagal response to anesthesia.

Figure 1:: Preoperative sagittal T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging showing prior L1 surgery and severe spinal stenosis at L3-L4 and L4-L5.

DISCUSSION

Here, we present the case of a 62-year-old male who experienced brief PEA arrest in the PACU after an uneventful lumbar surgery under spinal anesthesia. This episode was attributed to a vasovagal reflex (also known as the BezoldJarisch reflex or neurocardiogenic syncope).[4] This reflex can result in bradycardia, vasodilation, and hypotension. This may occur in surgery under spinal anesthesia for several reasons: blood loss/hypovolemia, sympathetic blockade/peripheral vasodilation/reduced venous return, and positioning (i.e., reverse-Trendelenburg and sitting upright) with venous pooling in the lower extremities.[4] However, in the setting of spinal anesthesia, it can cause serious complications by precipitating bradycardia and asystole.[7]

There is precedent in the literature for patients with a history of vasovagal episodes experiencing similar events under regional anesthesia [Table 1].[2,3,5,6,9] There are certain factors that appear to increase this risk: young age, ASA status, beta blocker therapy, and a sensory level above T6.[8]

Table 1:: Overview of reported cases of bradycardia/asystole occurring with neuraxial anesthesia where either (1) the event occurred post-operatively or (2) the patient had a history of vasovagal episodes.

Kinsella et al. offer several suggestions for avoiding vasovagal arrest under spinal anesthesia.[4] To treat bradycardia during spinal anesthesia, Pollard et al. recommends the stepwise use of atropine, ephedrine, and epinephrine.[8] We add that vasovagal arrest can also occur in the PACU setting in spinal anesthesia patients, and recommend screening for a history of vasovagal episodes.

CONCLUSION

This case report describes an episode of vasovagal cardiac arrest occurring in the PACU following spinal anesthesia for lumbar stenosis surgery, and we recommend asking patients about their history of vasovagal events to gain some insight into their risk for vasovagal complications such as PEA following spinal anesthesia.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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