JOURNAL ARTICLE

Crisis management during anaesthesia: bronchospasm

R N Westhorpe, G L Ludbrook, S C Helps
Quality & Safety in Health Care 2005, 14 (3): e7
15933304

BACKGROUND: Bronchospasm in association with anaesthesia may appear as an entity in its own right or be a component of another problem such as anaphylaxis. It may present with expiratory wheeze, prolonged exhalation or, in severe cases, complete silence on auscultation.

OBJECTIVES: To examine the role of a previously described core algorithm "COVER ABCD-A SWIFT CHECK", supplemented by a specific sub-algorithm for bronchospasm, in the diagnosis and management of bronchospasm occurring in association with anaesthesia.

METHODS: The potential performance of this structured approach for each of the relevant incidents among the first 4000 reported to the Australian Incident Monitoring Study (AIMS) was compared with the actual management as reported by anaesthetists involved.

RESULTS: There were 103 relevant incidents among the first 4000 AIMS reports, 22 of which were associated with allergy or anaphylaxis. Common presenting signs, in addition to wheeze, were decreased pulmonary compliance and falling oxygen saturation. Of the non-allergy/anaphylaxis related incidents, 80% occurred during induction or maintenance of anaesthesia. Of these, the principal causes of bronchospasm were airway irritation (35%), problems with the endotracheal tube (23%), and aspiration of gastric contents (14%). It was considered that, properly used, the structured approach recommended would have led to earlier recognition and/or better management of the problem in 10% of cases, and would not have harmed any patient had it been applied in all of them.

CONCLUSION: Bronchospasm may present in a variety of ways and may be associated with other life threatening conditions. Although most cases are handled appropriately by the attending anaesthetist, the use of a structured approach to its diagnosis and management would lead to earlier recognition and/or better management in 10% of cases.

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