Spinal artery syndrome masked by postoperative epidural analgesia

Stephan M. Linz, Christopher Charbonnet, Maged S. Mikhail, Nippon Vadehra, Vladimir Zelman, Ronald L. Katz, Duraiyah Thangathurai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: We report a case of a patient who developed a postoperative anterior spinal artery syndrome that was masked by the use of epidural analgesia. We wish to alert other anaesthetists that the use of epidural anaesthesia in this setting may mask the symptoms and delay the diagnosis of this rare complication. Clinical features: The patient was 22-yr-old obese man with metastatic testicular carcinoma who underwent a left-sided thoracoabdominal retroperitoneal tumour resection. A lumbar epidural catheter was placed preoperatively for pain management. Postoperatively, the patient developed bilateral lower extremity weakness, which was at first attributed to epidural administration of local anaesthetics. Despite discontinuation of the local anaesthetics, the symptoms persisted. Further work-up led to the diagnosis of anterior spinal artery syndrome. The patient was sent to a rehabilitation hospital and had a partial recovery. Conclusion: Anterior spinal artery syndrome can occur following retroperitoneal surgery. It is important to recognize the potential for this complication when postoperative epidural analgesia is contemplated, especially following a left-sided surgical dissection. The use of epidural local anaesthetics immediately after surgery delays the diagnosis of a postoperative neurological deficit. Moreover, when the deficit is recognized the epidural itself may be falsely blamed for postoperative paraplegia. If epidural analgesia is used, opioids may be preferred over local anaesthetics in the immediate postoperative period to prevent masking of an anterior spinal artery syndrome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1178-1181
Number of pages4
JournalCanadian Journal of Anaesthesia
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1997
Externally publishedYes


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