Author(s): Cheney FW, Domino KB, Caplan RA, Posner KL
BACKGROUND: Nerve injury associated with anesthesia is a significant source of morbidity for patients and liability for anesthesiologists. To identify recurrent and emerging patterns of injury we analyzed the current American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Closed Claims Project Database and performed an in-depth analysis of claims for nerve injury that were entered into the database since the authors' initial report of the subject.
METHODS: The ASA Closed Claims Database is a standardized collection of case summaries derived from the closed claims files of professional liability insurance companies. Claims for nerve injury that were not included in the authors' 1990 report were reviewed in-depth.
RESULTS: Six hundred seventy (16% of 4,183) claims were for anesthesia-related nerve injury. The most frequent sites of injury were the ulnar nerve (28%), brachial plexus (20%), lumbosacral nerve root (16%), and spinal cord (13%). Ulnar nerve (85%) injuries were more likely to have occurred in association with general anesthesia, whereas spinal cord (58%) and lumbosacral nerve root (92%) injuries were more likely to occur with regional techniques. Ulnar nerve injury occurred predominately in men (75%) and was also more apt to have a delayed onset of symptoms (62%) than other nerve injuries. Spinal cord injuries were the leading cause of claims for nerve injury that occurred in the 1990s.
CONCLUSION: New strategies for prevention of nerve damage cannot be recommended at this time because the mechanism for most injuries, particularly those of the ulnar nerve, is not apparent.