High spinal block is a serious, but relatively rare complication of surgery when injected anesthetic medications travel too far up the spinal cord and prevent the brain’s signals from reaching the heart and lungs. In such cases, potential cardiac arrest and death can occur. Recently, however, researchers report that they may have found a life-saving solution to this problem by making spinal anesthesia safer using magnet therapy.
Spinal anesthesia is used in some surgeries to numb or block pain to parts of the body during a surgical procedure.
A spinal anesthesia procedure typically involves an anesthesiologist injecting the medications directly into the fluid in your spinal cord, after which your blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, heart and respirations are closely monitored until after the surgery has ended. Spinal anesthesia is often used for genital, urinary tract and lower body procedures and is preferable to general anesthesia in some cases because of fewer side effects with spinal anesthesia compared to general anesthesia.
However, at times a complication referred to as “high spinal block” can occur and lead to respiratory and circulatory distress. Signs and symptoms of spinal block include:
• Cardiac arrest
• Respiratory compromise
• Reduced oxygen saturation
• Difficulty speaking/coughing
• Nausea and anxiety
• Arm/hand dysaesthesia or paralysis
• Loss of consciousness
While the exact cause of high spinal block is not totally understood, it is believed that the medications somehow wind up traveling too high up the spinal cord and thereby numb the nerve signals needed by the heart and lungs. Some identified potential risk factors for patients who might experience high spinal block include:
1. A prior epidural
2. Too large of a local anesthetic dose
3. Immediate supine positioning
4. Increased intra-abdominal pressure (including pregnancy and truncal obesity)
During surgery, anesthesiologists attempt to prevent high spinal block by adjusting the dosing of the anesthetic medications and by positioning the patient so that gravity pulls the numbing drugs to the lower portions of the spinal cord. Unfortunately, however, relying on gravity does not always work sufficiently, thereby necessitating the need for a new procedure or therapy to prevent untoward spread of the anesthetic drugs.
In a recent article published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, researchers from the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville have performed a preliminary test using magnetized anesthetic fluid under the control of a weak magnetic field to control the spread of anesthetic medications.
The lead author of the study, Robert H. Thiele, MD, and colleagues have built a mockup of the human spine using plastic tubing filled with fluid. They then injected anesthetic meds both with and without an added magnetic ferro-fluid and tested the flow of the anesthetic meds in the pseudo-spine while under a magnetic field.
What they found was that without the influence of a magnetic field, both the non-treated fluid and the ferro-fluid ran down the pseudospine via gravity. However, when a magnetic field was applied, the ferro-fluid could direct the medications either up or down the tubing under their direct control.
While the findings are just preliminary and in need of further research to determine whether the same type of therapy could work under human physiological conditions both safely and effectively, it does hold promise as a way to not only prevent high spinal block, but also a new way to control the spread of anesthetics to other regions of the body during some types of surgeries. The significance of this research is that it also adds to a growing trend in the applicability of using magnets in other, future medical therapies such as in treating body pain and in treating depression with magnetic fields.
Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Reference: “Manipulation of Hyperbaric Lidocaine Using a Weak Magnetic Field: A Pilot Study” Anesthesia & Analgesia June 2012 vol. 114 no. 6 1365-1367; Robert H. Thiele, MD et al.