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The RECITE Study: A Canadian Prospective, Multicenter Study of the Incidence and Severity of Residual Neuromuscular Blockade

Fortier, Louis-Philippe MSc, MD, FRCPC*; McKeen, Dolores MD, MSc, FRCPC; Turner, Kim BScPhm, MSc, MD, FRCPC‡§; de Médicis, Étienne MD, FRCPC; Warriner, Brian MD, FRCPC; Jones, Philip M. MD, FRCPC, MSc#**; Chaput, Alan BScPhm, PharmD, MD, MSc, FRCPC††; Pouliot, Jean-François PhD‡‡; Galarneau, André MSc, PhD‡‡

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000000757
Anesthetic Pharmacology: Research Report
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BACKGROUND: Postoperative residual neuromuscular blockade (NMB), defined as a train-of-four (TOF) ratio of <0.9, is an established risk factor for critical postoperative respiratory events and increased morbidity. At present, little is known about the occurrence of residual NMB in Canada. The RECITE (Residual Curarization and its Incidence at Tracheal Extubation) study was a prospective observational study at 8 hospitals in Canada investigating the incidence and severity of residual NMB.

METHODS: Adult patients undergoing open or laparoscopic abdominal surgery expected to last <4 hours, ASA physical status I–III, and scheduled for general anesthesia with at least 1 dose of a nondepolarizing neuromuscular blocking agent for endotracheal intubation or maintenance of neuromuscular relaxation were enrolled in the study. Neuromuscular function was assessed using acceleromyography with the TOF-Watch® SX. All reported TOF ratios were normalized to the baseline values. The attending anesthesiologist and all other observers were blinded to the TOF ratio (T4/T1) results. The primary and secondary objectives were to determine the incidence and severity of residual NMB (TOF ratio <0.9) just before tracheal extubation and at arrival at the postanesthesia care unit (PACU).

RESULTS: Three hundred and two participants were enrolled. Data were available for 241 patients at tracheal extubation and for 207 patients at PACU arrival. Rocuronium was the NMB agent used in 99% of cases. Neostigmine was used for reversal of NMB in 73.9% and 72.0% of patients with TE and PACU data, respectively. The incidence of residual NMB was 63.5% (95% confidence interval, 57.4%–69.6%) at tracheal extubation and 56.5% (95% confidence interval, 49.8%–63.3%) at arrival at the PACU. In an exploratory analysis, no statistically significant differences were observed in the incidence of residual NMB according to gender, age, body mass index, ASA physical status, type of surgery, or comorbidities (all P > 0.13).

CONCLUSIONS: Residual paralysis is common at tracheal extubation and PACU arrival, despite qualitative neuromuscular monitoring and the use of neostigmine. More effective detection and management of NMB is needed to reduce the risks associated with residual NMB.

Published ahead of print April 21, 2015

From the *Département d’Anesthésie, Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont Centre Affilié Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada; Department of Anesthesia, Pain Management and Perioperative Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada; Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care and §Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada; Départment d’Anesthésie, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada; Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; Departments of #Anesthesia and Perioperative Medicine and **Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada; ††Department of Anesthesiology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada; and ‡‡Merck Canada, Kirkland, Canada.

Accepted for publication January 23, 2015.

Published ahead of print April 21, 2015

Funding: This study was funded by Merck Canada.

Conflict of Interest: See Disclosures at the end of the article.

Reprints will not be available from the authors.

Address correspondence to André Galarneau, MSc, PhD, Merck Canada, 16711 Transcanada Hwy., Kirkland, Québec, Canada H9H3L1. Address e-mail to andre.galarneau@merck.com.

Postoperative residual neuromuscular blockade (NMB) is a common finding in anesthesia practice, with the incidence ranging from 26% to 88%, depending on the definitions used, the setting, the neuromuscular blocking agent used, and the patient population studied.1–9 After the introduction of train-of-four (TOF) monitoring in 1970,10 residual NMB was defined as a TOF ratio <0.7.11,12 However, subsequent studies have demonstrated that a TOF ratio of 0.7 to 0.9 is associated with an increased risk of aspiration, airway obstruction, hypoxia, and pharyngeal/esophageal complications.13,14 An increased risk of critical respiratory events and a significant prolongation of the length of stay in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU) are associated with residual NMB.15,16 As a result, a TOF ratio ≥0.9 has been suggested as the minimally acceptable level of recovery of neuromuscular function.17

To date, there have been no prospective studies of the incidence of residual NMB in Canada using acceleromyography to assess neuromuscular function. The primary objective of the prospective RECITE (Residual Curarization and its Incidence at Tracheal Extubation) study was to investigate the incidence of residual NMB, defined as a TOF ratio <0.9, at the time of tracheal extubation at 8 Canadian centers. The secondary objectives were to determine the incidence of residual NMB at arrival to the PACU and the severity of residual NMB at both time points, and to form hypotheses regarding the association between the severity of residual NMB and the incidence of perioperative complications. This trial is registered at clinicaltrials.gov (NCT01318382).

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METHODS

Before patient enrolment, all documentation regarding the design, objectives, and conduct of the study was approved by the institutional review board or independent ethics committee at each study site. Written, informed consent was obtained from all participants before entry into the study. Participants were enrolled between June 2011 and May 2012.

Participants were enrolled if they were adults undergoing open or laparoscopic abdominal surgery expected to last <4 hours, ASA physical status I–III, and scheduled for general anesthesia with at least 1 dose of a nondepolarizing neuromuscular blocking agent for endotracheal intubation or maintenance of NMB.

Acceleromyography with TOF stimulation was performed using the TOF-Watch® SX (Organon, Inc., West Orange, NJ). Readings during surgery were obtained at 10 specific time points: baseline before the administration of neuromuscular blocking agent; the first and last fascial stitch at the end of surgery; the last skin stitch or staple; at the administration of the NMB reversal agent; at 3, 5, and 10 minutes after administration of the reversal agent; and immediately before tracheal extubation. The final TOF readings were performed at arrival in the PACU. Similarly to other studies,16,18 data were acquired at all time points by capturing 2 TOF ratio readings. If the difference between the 2 readings was ≤0.1, the results were averaged for the analysis. If the difference was >0.1, a third reading was obtained and the 2 closest results were averaged. Indeterminate results underwent blinded evaluation by a panel of investigators to adjudicate inclusion or exclusion in the data set.

The attending anesthesiologist administering the anesthesia and all nurses were blinded to the TOF-Watch quantitative (recorded) results during the trial. No other quantitative monitoring of neuromuscular transmission (e.g., mechanomyography, electromyography) was permitted. All other qualitative (visual and tactile) monitoring measures were allowed. Participants were excluded if their medical condition, surgical procedure, or positioning would interfere with the operation, calibration, or accuracy of the TOF-Watch. Anesthesiologists were permitted to use qualitative measures (e.g., peripheral nerve stimulator and/or clinical criteria) to assess the degree of NMB as per their pattern of practice. As this study was observational, anesthesia practice was not standardized—dosing of NMB drugs, administration of reversal agents, and the decision to extubate were at the discretion of the attending anesthesiologist and consistent with routine anesthesia practice at their trial site.

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Statistical Analysis

Based on an estimated incidence of residual NMB of 30%, a sample size of 300 participants would provide a precision level of 5.2%, which is within acceptable levels of precision.

All analyses were performed on the per-protocol sets, defined as all eligible participants who were monitored with the TOF-Watch and had evaluable TOF ratio results at baseline and at tracheal extubation or at PACU arrival. Normalized TOF (nTOF) ratios were calculated by dividing each TOF ratio by the participant’s baseline value as described previously,19,20 and their correlation with the nonnormalized values was assessed with the Pearson correlation coefficient (r). Descriptive statistics were produced for all variables in the study. Measures of central tendency (mean) and dispersion (standard deviation) were produced for all continuous scale variables. Frequency distributions were produced for all categorical scale variables. Calculation of the 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) around the point estimate of the incidence of residual NMB was done with the normal approximation method.

The association between patient characteristics and residual NMB, as well as between the severity of residual NMB and perioperative complications at tracheal extubation and at PACU arrival, was assessed for exploratory purposes. The P values in these analyses were calculated as a measure of the strength of the association and not as a measure of causal inference. Between-group comparisons for continuous variables were assessed for statistical significance with the Student t test or the Wilcoxon rank sum test, depending on the normality of the data (as assessed with the Shapiro-Wilk test (i.e., when the Shapiro-Wilk test was significant, the Wilcoxon rank sum test was used); for categorical variables, the χ2 test or Fisher exact test was used, as appropriate. Univariable logistic regression was used for the assessment of the association between nTOF ratio and perioperative complications and the association between rocuronium dose and neostigmine usage. Negative binomial regression was used to evaluate the impact of nTOF ratio on the number of PACU nurse visits. All univariable associations to be tested were prespecified. All statistical tests were 2-sided with an α level of 0.05. All analyses were performed using SAS 9.2 (SAS Institute, Cary, NC).

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RESULTS

This prospective observational study was conducted at 8 Canadian hospitals. A total of 326 patients were screened for eligibility, and 302 participants were entered in the study (Fig. 1). Data were available for 241 patients at tracheal extubation (TE data set) and for 207 patients at arrival in the PACU (PACU data set). As per protocol, patient data were excluded if there were TOF-Watch or computer technical issues, excessive variability in TOF ratio measures (as adjudicated by the blinded investigators), or early discontinuation.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The mean age of patients in the TE and PACU data sets was 48.0 and 47.3 years, respectively (Table 1), and the majority were female (70.1% and 74.4%) and ASA class II (52.7% and 54.1%). A similar proportion of patients underwent open abdominal versus laparoscopic surgery. Rocuronium was the NMB agent used in >99% of cases, with remaining participants receiving cisatracurium (0.8% and 0.5%). Those patients who were tracheally intubated with succinylcholine (6.2% and 2.9%) received at least 1 dose of nondepolarizing agent for maintenance of NMB. Neostigmine was used to reverse NMB in 73.9% and 72.0% of TE and PACU patients, respectively.

Table 1

Table 1

The incidence of residual NMB (nTOF ratio <0.9) was 63.5% (95% CI, 57.4%–69.6%) at tracheal extubation and 56.5% (95% CI, 49.8%–63.3%) at arrival at the PACU (Fig. 2A). When using the nonnormalized TOF data, the incidence of residual NMB at tracheal extubation and at PACU arrival was 56.0% (95% CI, 49.7%–62.3%) and 44.0% (95% CI, 37.7%–50.2%), respectively. Overall, a strong positive linear correlation was observed between normalized and nonnormalized TOF data both at tracheal extubation (r = 0.943, P < 0.001) and at PACU arrival (r = 0.895, P < 0.001).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Between-group comparisons showed no statistically significant differences in the incidence of residual NMB (nTOF ratio <0.9) according to gender, age (<50 vs >50 years), body mass index (<30 vs >30), ASA class, type of surgery, or comorbidities (Table 2). The incidence of residual NMB both at tracheal extubation and at arrival to the PACU was positively associated with a significantly higher dose of rocuronium per minute of surgery (Table 3). Similar results were observed at PACU arrival. Furthermore, the use of qualitative peripheral neuromuscular monitoring was associated with a lower incidence of residual NMB at PACU arrival (51.1% vs 67.1%; P = 0.028). The findings of this exploratory analysis may merit future investigation.

Table 2

Table 2

Table 3

Table 3

Figure 3 describes the results of an exploratory analysis describing the association between the severity of residual NMB and perioperative complications at tracheal extubation (Fig. 3A) and at PACU arrival (Fig. 3B). Each increase of the nTOF ratio at tracheal extubation by 0.1 was associated with significantly lower odds of requiring oxygen administration in the PACU (OR [95% CI] = 0.894 [0.802–0.997]). Regarding the number of PACU nurse bed visits using negative binomial regression, a significant association was observed where each increase in TOF ratio by 0.1 was associated with 4% fewer bed visits (P = 0.013). The results of these exploratory analyses may merit further investigation. A similar exploratory analysis for the relationship between nTOF ratio and perioperative complications at PACU arrival is presented in Figure 3B. The impact of nTOF ratio on postoperative pulmonary complications could not be assessed due to their low incidence. Notably, only 3 patients had a diagnosis of pneumonia or atelectasis. One patient required mechanical or noninvasive ventilation, and 1 was reintubated.

Figure 3

Figure 3

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DISCUSSION

Residual NMB is common in the early postoperative period. Moreover, residual blockade may persist after arrival at the PACU, which has been shown to be associated with significant morbidity and delays in recovery room discharge.15,16 It has been proposed that the minimally acceptable level of recovery is a TOF ratio ≥0.9,17 because even mild residual paralysis (TOF ratio 0.7–0.9) is associated with pharyngeal and esophageal dysfunction,13,14 obstruction of the upper airway,21 impaired hypoxic ventilatory response,22 and patient discomfort.23

In the present study, residual NMB, defined as a nTOF ratio <0.9, was present in 63.5% of patients at tracheal extubation and in 56.5% on arrival at the PACU. These results are consistent with previous studies.4,6 In a large series by Debaene et al.,6 residual NMB (TOF ratio <0.9) was present in 45% of patients on arrival at the PACU; in 37% of patients, residual NMB was present 2 hours after administration of a muscle relaxant. Murphy et al.4 obtained TOF ratios using acceleromyography following the clinician’s determination of neuromuscular recovery using clinical criteria and peripheral nerve stimulation. The mean TOF ratio was 0.67 at tracheal extubation, and 88% had a TOF ratio <0.9. Upon arrival in the PACU, 32% had a TOF ratio <0.9. Thus, a high proportion of patients are incorrectly diagnosed using conventional methods and have residual NMB both at tracheal extubation and at PACU arrival.

A further concern is that, although the use of conventional neuromuscular reversal agents such as neostigmine is recommended, their use does not appear to markedly reduce the incidence of residual NMB, as defined by a TOF ratio of <0.9, during routine practice. In our study, among patients receiving NMB reversal with neostigmine, residual paralysis was present in 64.6% at tracheal extubation and 59.7% at PACU arrival. This suggests that one cannot rely on neostigmine alone to avoid residual NMB. Instead, other factors such as precise titration of nondepolarizing neuromuscular blocking drugs, clinician attitude regarding the importance of avoiding residual NMB, and situational awareness of surgical timing are likely important.

Exploratory analysis showed that patients with residual NMB were, on average, tracheally extubated sooner after neostigmine administration than those without residual NMB (Table 3), and we believe this finding deserves further study.

As Capron et al.24 have previously noted, qualitative measures of neuromuscular recovery such as clinical signs of muscle weakness and qualitative monitoring devices are not reliable, compared to acceleromyography, in detecting small degrees of residual paralysis. Our exploratory analysis shows that the use of qualitative peripheral neuromuscular monitoring was associated with significantly lower residual NMB at PACU arrival (but not at tracheal extubation). Despite the presence of qualitative monitoring and/or the use of neostigmine, a substantial proportion of patients had residual NMB at tracheal extubation and at PACU arrival. Furthermore, our data illustrate that, despite recent publications, continuing professional development, and editorials17,25–31 with suggestions to change current NMB management, residual NMB is still a prevalent condition.

This was an observational investigation and has to be considered in the context of its limitations. The acceleromyography monitoring method in this study was designed to not interfere with the current practice, so no preload was applied to the thumb and no period of baseline signal stabilization was achieved before neuromuscular block was administered. Furthermore, the study was not powered to detect the association between severity of NMB and perioperative complications, given that these were exploratory study objectives. Thus, these results should be interpreted in light of their exploratory (hypothesis-generating not hypothesis-testing) and descriptive nature without attempting to make causal inferences or reaching clinical conclusions based on the associations identified. Overall, despite the considerable proportion of patients with residual NMB, there were not many critical respiratory events; 3 patients had a diagnosis of pneumonia or atelectasis, 1 patient required mechanical or noninvasive ventilation, and 1 patient was tracheally reintubated.

This is the first multicenter Canadian study to examine the incidence of residual NMB at tracheal extubation and at PACU arrival. The use of normalized acceleromyographic TOF ratio data is a significant strength of the study. The importance of TOF ratio normalization to account for within-patient variation and to reliably detect residual paralysis has been previously emphasized.19,20

Consistent with previous studies, the current work reinforces the continued high prevalence of residual NMB in regular clinical practice, despite education, qualitative TOF monitoring, and the use of neostigmine. These findings should provoke a re-examination of currently used techniques for the monitoring and reversal of NMB.

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DISCLOSURES

Name: Louis-Philippe Fortier, MSc, MD, FRCPC.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, conduct the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Louis-Philippe Fortier has seen the original study data, reviewed the analysis of the data, and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Louis-Philippe Fortier consulted for Merck Canada.

Name: Dolores McKeen, MD, MSc, FRCPC.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, conduct the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Dolores McKeen reviewed the analysis of the data and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Dolores McKeen received honoraria from Merck Canada and consulted for Merck Canada.

Name: Kim Turner, BScPhm, MSc, MD, FRCPC.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, conduct the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Kim Turner reviewed the analysis of the data and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Kim Turner consulted for Merck Canada.

Name: Étienne de Médicis, MD, FRCPC.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, conduct the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Étienne de Médicis reviewed the analysis of the data and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Etienne deMedicis consulted for Merck Canada.

Name: Brian Warriner, MD, FRCPC.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Brian Warriner reviewed the analysis of the data and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Brian Warriner received honoraria from Merck Canada and consulted for Merck Canada.

Name: Philip M. Jones, MD, FRCPC, MSc.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, conduct the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Philip M. Jones reviewed the analysis of the data and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflicts of interest.

Name: Alan Chaput, MD, FRCPC.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, conduct the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Alan Chaput reviewed the analysis of the data and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Alan Chaput consulted for Merck Canada.

Name: Jean-François Pouliot, PhD.

Contribution: This author helped design the study and write the manuscript.

Attestation: Jean-François Pouliot has seen the original study data, reviewed the analysis of the data, and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Jean-François Pouliot worked for Merck Canada.

Name: André Galarneau, MSc, PhD.

Contribution: This author helped design the study, analyze the data, and write the manuscript.

Attestation: André Galarneau has seen the original study data, reviewed the analysis of the data, approved the final manuscript, and is the author responsible for archiving the study files.

Conflicts of Interest: André Galarneau worked for Merck Canada.

This manuscript was handled by: Steven L. Shafer, MD.

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