Epidural analgesia is widely used for postoperative pain in a variety of surgical operations and it is recognised to provide superior quality of analgesia when compared with systemic opioids. The combination of low doses of local anaesthetics and opioids appears to provide optimal analgesia with minimal motor blockade. However, side effects have been reported with epidural analgesia such as postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV), respiratory depression and arterial hypotension. Although the incidence of these side effects is lower than those reported with the use of systemic opioids, they can contribute to a delay in discharging patients from PACU. Epidural analgesia is also associated with perioperative hypothermia. The incidence of cognitive dysfunction is not decreased by using postoperative epidural analgesia. Assessment of the quality of analgesia by using pain visual analogue score (VAS) at rest and with movements or on coughing remains the most preferred in PACU, although there are limitations with this measurement. Epidural failure due to technical failure or malposition of the catheter represents potential problems having direct consequence on the quality of analgesia provided. All epidural catheters have to be checked and the quality of analgesia assessed before patients are discharging from PACU to the surgical wards. With advances in pain pharmacology, multimodal interventions and adjuvants can be used safely with the intent of providing better analgesia and decreasing the side effects associated with one technique.
Keywords: epidural analgesia, postoperative pain, post anesthesia care unit