DOI: 10.1111/pan.14830 ISSN: 1155-5645

Awake caudal anesthesia in ex‐premature infants undergoing lower abdominal surgery: A narrative review

Geoff P. Frawley, Alexander John McCann
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health


Background and Objectives

The aim of this narrative review is to evaluate the literature describing the use of caudal anesthetic‐based techniques in premature and ex‐premature infants undergoing lower abdominal surgery.


All available literature from inception to August 2023 was retrieved according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta‐Analysis guidelines from Medline, PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Library. Two authors reviewed all references for eligibility, abstracted data, and appraised quality.


Of the 211 articles identified, 45 met our inclusion criteria yielding 1548 cases with awake caudal anesthesia. The review included 558 (36.0%) cases of awake caudal anesthesia, 837 cases (54.1%) of “awake” caudal anesthesia with sedation, and 153 cases (9.9%) of combined spinal caudal epidural anesthesia without sedation.

The overall anesthetic failure rate was 7.2% (71.9:1000 caudals). Failure rates were highest for CSEA (13.7%, 7.7–18.4), intermediate for awake caudal (6.6%, 5.26–9.51), and lowest for sedated caudal anesthesia (5.85%, 4.48–7.82). The incidence (range) of perioperative apnea was highest for sedated caudal anesthesia (8.16, 0%–24%), intermediate for awake caudal (7.62%, 0%–60%), and lowest for CSEA (5.53%, 0%–14.3%).

High spinal anesthesia occurred in 0.84%, or 8.35:1000 caudals overall. The incidence was highest in awake caudal anesthesia cases (1.97% or 19.7:1000 caudals), intermediate with caudal with sedation (1.07% or 10.7:1000 caudals), and lowest in CSEA (0.7% or 6.6:1000 caudals).

Our review was confounded by incomplete data reporting and small sample sizes as most were case reports. There were no high‐quality randomized controlled trials, and the eight single‐center retrospective data reviews lacked sufficient data to perform meta‐analysis.


There is insufficient evidence to validate or refute the benefits of the use of “awake” caudal anesthesia in premature and ex‐premature infants. The high doses of local anesthetics used, the high failure rate, and the increased incidence of high spinal anesthesia would suggest that the techniques offer no real advantages over awake spinal anesthesia or general anesthesia with a regional block.

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