Epidural anesthesia is widely used for postoperative analgesia and rarely causes permanent neurological complications. We report a case of paraplegia following abdominal surgery under combined epidural/general anesthesia.
A 75-year-old woman underwent a scheduled abdominal total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy for suspected endometrial cancer. In the operating room, an epidural catheter was inserted at T11/12 while the patient was conscious. The needle entered smoothly, with no observed bleeding, paresthesia, or pain, and general anesthesia was induced. During surgery, 4 mL of 0.25% levobupivacaine and 0.1 mg of fentanyl were administered via the epidural catheter, and a solution of 2.5 μg/mL fentanyl and 0.2% levobupivacaine was continuously infused at 4 mL/h for postoperative analgesia. The patient promptly regained consciousness and could move her bilateral lower extremities without difficulty upon leaving the operating room. During the first postoperative night, she complained of an absence of sensation and weakness in the lower extremities. By the morning of the second postoperative day, she had developed paralysis and sensory losses associated with touch, temperature, pinprick, and vibration below T5. The epidural infusion was stopped. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a hyperintense area of the thoracic cord from T8 to T11, and spinal cord infarction was suspected. Ossification of the yellow spinal ligaments between T11 and T12, resulting in thoracic canal stenosis and thoracic spinal cord compression, were observed. Notably, the epidural catheter was inserted at the same site where the thoracic canal stenosis was present.
Permanent neurological complications of epidural anesthesia are rare. Studies of neurological complications after epidural/spinal anesthesia have noted the possibility of spinal anomalies, such as lumbar stenosis, in relation to neurological complications after epidural/spinal anesthesia. In this case, the onset of spinal cord infarction may have occurred coincidentally with catheter insertion into the site of existing spinal stenosis. Therefore, it is important to evaluate lower extremity symptoms and consider spinal disease before administering epidural anesthesia. Spinal cord infarction may be prevented by preoperatively identifying spinal lesions using computed tomography or MRI in cases of suspected spinal disease.