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New Study in Anesthesiology Supports Mixed Lipid Emulsion to Reverse Toxicity of Local Anesthetics

Chicago — (January 25, 2012) 

A new study in the February issue of Anesthesiology found that the type of lipid emulsion used to reverse toxicity of local anesthetics may make a difference in effectiveness of the reversal. The study analyzed the difference between mixed (medium- and long-chain) and long-chain lipid emulsions, for their ability to extract local anesthetic from serum. 

Local anesthetics are used to block the pain response during surgery. On rare occasions, toxicity can occur. One way to reverse toxicity of local anesthetics is through lipid emulsion infusion, a technique commonly used to feed patients intravenously. It is believed to form a “lipid sink” that causes the anesthetic to be absorbed out of the serum into the lipid and away from target sites like the heart. The use of lipids to treat toxicity has also been used by other physicians, such as in the treatment of drug overdoses in the emergency room.

“Our hope was to further previous research regarding the use of lipid rescue in local anesthetic toxicity. We used human serum instead of buffer solutions that were used in prior research to produce results as clinically relevant as possible,” said lead study author Deborah French, Ph.D. “The local anesthetics bupivacaine, ropivacaine and mepivacaine were added to the serum along with a lipid emulsion for testing.”

Findings showed that a lipid emulsion infusion containing both medium- and long-chain triglycerides extracts local anesthetics from human serum more effectively than an emulsion containing only long-chain triglycerides. These findings are particularly important because they contrast with past findings that examined local anesthetic extraction from non-serum solution. Local anesthetic toxicity often occurs in the setting of high acid in the blood. Importantly, the study also found that lipid emulsion infusion extracts local anesthetics out of a patient’s serum at an acidic blood pH the same as it would at a normal pH, suggesting that lipid rescue need not be delayed for normalization of the patient’s acidosis.

The study is part of an ongoing effort to characterize the suitability of lipid administration in the reversal of toxicity from local anesthetics, as well as other drugs commonly encountered in the setting of a life-threatening overdose. Its findings have implications with respect to current guidelines that call for long-chain triglyceride emulsion instead of mixed emulsion. Nonetheless, additional studies are needed to confirm the clinical applicability of the study’s findings. 

For more information, visit the Anesthesiology website at


Founded in 1905, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an educational, research and scientific society with more than 52,000 members organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology. ASA is committed to ensuring physician anesthesiologists evaluate and supervise the medical care of patients before, during and after surgery to provide the highest quality and safest care every patient deserves.

For more information on the field of anesthesiology, visit the American Society of Anesthesiologists online at . To learn more about the role physician anesthesiologists play in ensuring patient safety, visit Like ASA on Facebook , follow ASALifeline on Twitter and follow ASA on LinkedIn .



American Society of Anesthesiologists