Spinal anesthesia for ambulatory surgery: current controversies and concerns


Purpose of review: General anesthesia is a popular choice for ambulatory surgery. Spinal anesthesia is often avoided because of perceived delays due to time required to administer it and prolonged onset, as well as concerns of delayed offset, which may delay recovery and discharge home. However, the reports of improved outcomes in hospitalized patients undergoing total joint arthroplasty have renewed the interest in spinal anesthesia. This review article critically assesses the role of spinal anesthesia in comparison with fast-track general anesthesia for the outpatient setting.

Recent findings: The purported benefits of spinal anesthesia include avoidance of airway manipulation and the adverse effects of drugs used to provide general anesthesia, improved postoperative pain, and reduced postoperative opioid requirements. Improved postoperative outcomes after spinal anesthesia in hospitalized patients may not apply to the outpatient population that tends to be relatively healthier. Also, it is unclear if spinal anesthesia is superior to fast-track general anesthesia techniques, which includes avoidance of benzodiazepine premedication, avoidance of deep anesthesia, use of an opioid-sparing approach, and minimization of neuromuscular blocking agents with appropriate reversal of residual paralysis.

Summary: The benefits of spinal anesthesia in the outpatient setting remain questionable at best. Further studies should seek clarification of these goals and outcomes.

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