Adverse effects of local anaesthetics

W McCaughey
Drug Safety: An International Journal of Medical Toxicology and Drug Experience 1992, 7 (3): 178-89
Local anaesthetics are responsible for 5 to 10% of all reported adverse reactions to anaesthetic drugs. Adverse effects may be classified as: (a) those associated directly with blocking ion channels in cell membranes, such as cardiovascular and CNS toxicity; (b) those due to other effects of drug or vehicle (mainly peripheral nerve complications); (c) allergic reactions (often a mistaken diagnosis); and (d) mechanical or other effects of technique, such as needle trauma or introduction of infection. Signs and symptoms of CNS toxicity include convulsions, followed by coma and respiratory depression. Convulsions are due to disinhibition of nervous conduction, probably by an action at the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor complex, while depressant effects, which predominate at higher doses, are due to blockade of sodium channels. CNS toxicity is potentiated by hypoxia and hypercapnia, so acute management must minimise these. Cardiovascular toxicity also involves sodium channel blockade, reducing contractility and interfering with conduction. Bupivacaine differs from lidocaine (lignocaine) in the sudden occurrence of dangerous ventricular arrhythmias including fibrillation at subconvulsant doses. Ropivacaine is a newer amide local anaesthetic with toxicity intermediate between these but potency similar to bupivacaine. Neurotoxic complications leading to prolonged deficit after intraspinal administration are uncommon. Causes are multifactorial, and include pH of and additives to preparations. Allergic reactions account for only 1% of untoward reactions, but anaphylactoid collapse can be lifeth-reatening and requires rapid and effective management.

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