BACKGROUND: Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the safety of the transversus abdominis plane (TAP) block when used to ameliorate postoperative pain in children. Safety concerns have been repeatedly mentioned as a major barrier to performing large randomized trials in children. The main objective of the current investigation was to determine the incidence of overall and specific complications resulting from the performance of the TAP block in children. In addition, we evaluated patterns of local anesthetic dosage selection in the same population.
METHODS: This was an observational study using the Pediatric Regional Anesthesia Network database. A complication from the TAP block was defined by the presence of at least one of the following intraoperative and/or postoperative factors: puncture of the peritoneum or organs, vascular puncture, cardiovascular, pulmonary and/or neurological symptoms/signs, hematoma, and infection. Additional analyses were performed to identify patterns of local anesthetic dosage.
RESULTS: One thousand nine hundred ninety-four children receiving a TAP block were included in the analysis. Only 2 complications were reported: a vascular aspiration of blood before local anesthetic injection and a peritoneal puncture resulting in an overall incidence of complications (95% CI) of 0.1% (0.02%–0.3%) and a specific incidence of complications (vascular aspiration or peritoneal puncture) of 0.05% (0.0054%–0.2000%). Neither of these complications resulted in additional interventions or sequelae. The median (95% range) for the local anesthetic dose per weight for bilateral TAP blocks was 1.0 (0.47–2.29) mg of bupivacaine equivalents per kilogram; however, subjects’ weights were not sufficient to explain much of the variability in dose. One hundred thirty-five of 1944 (6.9%; 95% CI, 5.8%–8.1%) subjects received doses that could be potentially toxic. Subjects who received potentially toxic doses were younger than subjects who did not receive potentially toxic doses, 64 (19–100) months and 108 (45–158) months, respectively (P < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: The upper incidence of overall complications associated with the TAP block in children was 0.3%. More important, complications were very minor and did not require any additional interventions. In contrast, the large variability of local anesthetic dosage used can not only minimize potential analgesic benefits of the TAP block but also result in local anesthetic toxicity. Safety concerns should not be a major barrier to performing randomized trials to test the efficacy of the TAP block in children as long as appropriate local anesthetic dose regimens are selected.