Research on fast-track recovery protocols postulates that thoracic epidural anesthesia (TEA) in cardiac surgery contributes to improved postoperative outcomes. However, concerns about TEA’s safety hinder its widespread usage. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the benefits and risks of TEA in cardiac surgery.
We searched 4 databases for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the use of TEA against only general anesthesia (GA) in adults undergoing cardiac surgery, up till June 4, 2022. We conducted random-effects meta-analyses, evaluated risk of bias using the Cochrane Risk-of-Bias 2 tool, and rated certainty of evidence via the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations (GRADE) approach. Primary outcomes were intensive care unit (ICU), hospital length of stay, extubation time (ET), and mortality. Other outcomes included postoperative complications. Trial sequential analysis (TSA) was conducted on all outcomes to elicit statistical and clinical benefit.
Our meta-analysis included 51 RCTs (2112 TEA patients and 2220 GA patients). TEA significantly reduced ICU length of stay (−6.9 hours; 95% confidence interval [CI], −12.5 to −1.2; P = .018), hospital length of stay (−0.8 days; 95% CI, −1.1 to −0.4; P < .0001), and ET (−2.9 hours; 95% CI, −3.7 to −2.0; P < .0001). However, we found no significant change in mortality. TSA found that the cumulative Z-curve passed the TSA-adjusted boundary for ICU length of stay, hospital length of stay, and ET, suggesting a clinical benefit. TEA also significantly reduced pain scores, pooled pulmonary complications, transfusion requirements, delirium, and arrhythmia, without additional complications such as epidural hematomas, of which the risk was estimated to be <0.14%.
TEA reduces ICU and hospital length of stay, and postoperative complications in patients undergoing cardiac surgery with minimal reported complications such as epidural hematomas. These findings favor the use of TEA in cardiac surgery and warrant consideration for use in cardiac surgeries worldwide.