[Central anticholinergic syndrome and apnea after general anaesthesia. A rare manifestation of the central anticholinergic syndrome]

I Senne, C Zourelidis, D Irnich, M Kurz, T Hummel, B Zwissler
Der Anaesthesist 2003, 52 (7): 608-11
The central anticholinergic syndrome (CAS) is a rarely observed condition after general anaesthesia. There are no definitive criteria to set the diagnosis of CAS. The syndrome may manifest in clinical neurological signs, such as hyperactive states or a depressed CNS state. The diagnosis usually depends on a process of exclusion of other conditions and is confirmed after rapid recovery following administration of physostigmine. We report on a 34-year-old patient who suddenly lost consciousness and developed respiratory arrest 1 h after general anesthesia and normal postoperative recovery. CAS was considered, although apnea has not been reported as a clinical symptom of this disease up to now and no peripheral signs of CAS were observed. After the administration of 1 mg physostigmine the symptoms resolved immediately and the patient started sufficient spontaneous breathing. However, corresponding to the plasma elimination half-life of the drug, further comatose episodes with apnea occurred. Therefore, the patient was admitted to the ICU and an infusion of physostigmin at a rate of up to 5 mg/h was started. Due to this therapy the patient's state became stable and 15 h after the first manifestation of CAS the infusion of physostigmin was discontinued. The following postoperative course was uneventful. In case of reduced vigilance with apnea after general anaesthesia, central anticholinergic syndrome should be considered. For diagnostic and therapeutic purposes the administration of physostigmine should be attempted.

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