Perioperative peripheral nerve injury (PNI) is a well-recognized complication of general anesthesia that continues to result in patient disability and malpractice claims. However, the multifactorial etiology of PNI is often not appreciated in malpractice claims given that most PNI is alleged to be due to errors in patient positioning. New advances in monitoring may aid anesthesiologists in the early detection of PNI. This article reviews recent studies of perioperative PNI after general anesthesia and discusses the epidemiology and potential mechanisms of injury and preventive measures. We performed a systematic literature search, reviewed the available evidence, and identified areas for further investigation. We also reviewed perioperative PNI in the Anesthesia Closed Claims Project database for adverse events from 1990 to 2013. The incidence of perioperative PNI after general anesthesia varies considerably depending on the type of surgical procedure, the age and risk factors of the patient population, and whether the detection was made retrospectively or prospectively. Taken together, studies suggest that the incidence in a general population of surgical patients undergoing all types of procedures is <1%, with higher incidence in cardiac, neurosurgery, and some orthopedic procedures. PNI represent 12% of general anesthesia malpractice claims since 1990, with injuries to the brachial plexus and ulnar nerves representing two-thirds of PNI claims. The causes of perioperative PNI after general anesthesia are likely multifactorial, resulting in a "difficult to predict and prevent" phenomenon. Nearly half of the PNI closed claims did not have an obvious etiology, and most (91%) were associated with appropriate anesthetic care. Future studies should focus on the interaction between different mechanisms of insult, severity and duration of injury, and underlying neuronal reserves. Recent automated detection technology in neuromonitoring with somatosensory evoked potentials may increase the ability to identify at-risk patients and individualize patient management.
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Peripheral nerve injury is a potentially devastating complication after total shoulder arthroplasty (TSA) surgery. This pilot study aimed to assess the feasibility of using an automated somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP) device to provide a timely alert/intervention to minimize intraoperative nerve insults during TSA surgery.
A prospective, single-arm, observational study was conducted in a single university hospital. The attending anesthesiologist monitored the study participants using the EPAD automated SSEP device and an intervention was made if there was an alert during TSA surgery. The median, radial, and ulnar nerve SSEP on the operative arm, as well as the median nerve SSEP of the nonoperative arm were monitored for each patient. All patients were evaluated for postoperative neurological deficits 6 weeks postoperatively.
In total, 21 patients were consented and were successfully monitored. In total, 4 (19%) patients developed intraoperative abnormal SSEP signal changes in the operative arm, in which 3 were reversible and 1 was irreversible till the end of surgery. Median and radial nerves were mostly involved (3/4 patients). The mean cumulative duration of nerve insult (abnormal SSEP) was 21.7±26.2 minutes. Univariate analysis did not identify predictor of intraoperative nerve insults. No patients demonstrated postoperative peripheral neuropathy at 6 weeks.
A high incidence (19%) of intraoperative nerve insult was observed in this study demonstrating the feasibility of using an automated SSEP device to provide a timely alert and enable an intervention in order to minimize peripheral nerve injury during TSA. Further randomized studies are warranted.
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