BACKGROUND: Epidural analgesia has been the reference standard for the provision of post-operative pain relief in patients recovering from major upper abdominal operations, including liver resections. However, a failure rate of 20-32% has been reported. AIM: The aim of the study was to analyse the success rates of epidural analgesia and the outcome in patients who underwent liver surgery. METHODS: We collected data from a prospectively maintained database of 70 patients who underwent open liver surgery by a bilateral subcostal incision during a period of 20 months (February 2009 to September 2010). Anaesthetic consultants with expertise in anaesthesia for liver surgery performed the epidural catheter placement. A dedicated pain team assessed the post-operative pain scores on moving or coughing using the Verbal Descriptor Scale. The outcome was measured in terms of epidural success rates, pain scores, post-operative chest infection and length of hospital stay. RESULTS: The study group included 43 males and 27 females. The indication for resection was liver secondaries (70%), primary tumours (19%) and benign disease (11%). While major (≥3 segments) and minor resections (≤ 2 segments) were performed in 44% and 47% respectively, 9% of patients were inoperable. Epidural analgesia was successful in 64 patients (91%). Bacterial colonisation of epidural tip was noticed in two patients. However, no neurological complications were encountered. Five patients (7%) had radiologically confirmed chest infection. Four patients (6%) developed wound infection. One patient died due to liver failure following extended right hepatectomy and cholecystectomy for gall bladder cancer. The median length of stay was 6 days (3-27 days). The extent of liver resection (p = 0.026) and post-operative chest infection (p = 0.012) had a significant influence on the length of stay. CONCLUSION: Our experience shows that epidural analgesia is safe and effective in providing adequate pain relief following open liver surgery.
KEYWORDS: Epidural analgesia; acute pain; drug therapy; liver surgery; prevention and control