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Journal: Anaesthesia


Cognition may decline after surgery. Postoperative delirium, especially when hyperactive, may be easily recognised, whereas cognitive dysfunction is subtle and can only be detected using neuropsychological tests. The causes for these two conditions are largely unknown, although they share risk factors, the predominant one being age. Ignorance of the causes for postoperative cognitive dysfunction contributes to the difficulty of conducting interventional studies. Postoperative cognitive disorders are associated with increased mortality and permanent disability. Peri-operative interventions can reduce the rate of delirium in the elderly, but in spite of promising findings in animal experiments, no intervention reduces postoperative cognitive dysfunction in humans.

Concepts: Neurocognitive, Intervention


Observational studies have highlighted the detrimental health effects of shift work. The mechanisms through which acute sleep deprivation may lead to chronic disease have not been elucidated, but it is thought that increased DNA damage or decreased repair can lead to disease. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of acute sleep deprivation on DNA damage. This was a cross-sectional observational study on 49 healthy, full-time doctors. Baseline blood was sampled from each participant after three consecutive days of adequate sleep. Participants (n = 24) who were required to work overnight on-site had additional blood sampled on a morning after acute sleep deprivation. DNA damage and expression of DNA repair genes were quantified. Information on health, working patterns and sleep diaries were collected. Independent t-tests were used to compare differences between groups and standardised mean differences expressed as Cohen’s d. Overnight on-site call participants had lower baseline DNA repair gene expression and more DNA breaks than participants who did not work overnight (d = 1.47, p = 0.0001; and 1.48, p = 0.0001, respectively). In overnight on-site call participants, after acute sleep deprivation, DNA repair gene expression was decreased (d = 0.90, p = 0.0001) and DNA breaks were increased (d = 0.87, p = 0.0018). Sleep deprivation in shift workers is associated with adverse health consequences. Increased DNA damage has been linked to the development of chronic disease. This study demonstrates that disrupted sleep is associated with DNA damage. Furthermore, larger prospective studies looking at relationships between DNA damage and chronic disease development are warranted, and methods to relieve, or repair, DNA damage linked to sleep deprivation should be investigated.


Despite being infrequent, complications of airway management remain an important contributor to morbidity and mortality during anaesthesia and care of the critically ill. Developments in the last three decades have made anaesthesia safer, and this has been mirrored in the equipment and techniques available for airway management. Modern technology including novel oxygenation modalities, widespread availability of capnography, second-generation supraglottic airway devices and videolaryngoscopy provide the tools to make airway management safer still. However, technology will only take safety so far, and non-technical aspects of airway management are critically important for communication and decision making during airway crises, acknowledging a ‘cannot intubate, cannot oxygenate’ situation and transitioning to emergency front of neck airway. Randomised controlled trials provide little useful information about safety in this setting, and data from registries and databases are likely to be of more value. This narrative review focuses on recent evidence in this area.

Concepts: Critical thinking, The Canon of Medicine, Randomized controlled trial, Decision theory, Anesthesia, Endotracheal tube, Pulse oximetry, Character


Randomised, controlled trials have been retracted after publication because of data fabrication and inadequate ethical approval. Fabricated data have included baseline variables, for instance, age, height or weight. Statistical tests can determine the probability of the distribution of means, given their standard deviation and the number of participants in each group. Randomised, controlled trials have been retracted after the data distributions have been calculated as improbable. Most retracted trials have been written by anaesthetists and published by specialist anaesthetic journals. I wanted to explore whether the distribution of baseline data in trials was consistent with the expected distribution. I wanted to determine whether trials retracted after publication had distributions different to trials that have not been retracted. I wanted to determine whether data distributions in trials published in specialist anaesthetic journals have been different to distributions in non-specialist medical journals. I analysed the distribution of 72,261 means of 29,789 variables in 5087 randomised, controlled trials published in eight journals between January 2000 and December 2015: Anaesthesia (399); Anesthesia and Analgesia (1288); Anesthesiology (541); British Journal of Anaesthesia (618); Canadian Journal of Anesthesia (384); European Journal of Anaesthesiology (404); Journal of the American Medical Association (518) and New England Journal of Medicine (935). I chose these journals as I had electronic access to the full text. Trial p values were distorted by an excess of baseline means that were similar and an excess that were dissimilar: 763/5015 (15.2%) trials that had not been retracted from publication had p values that were within 0.05 of 0 or 1 (expected 10%), that is, a 5.2% excess, p = 1.2 × 10(-7) . The p values of 31/72 (43%) trials that had been retracted after publication were within 0.05 of 0 or 1, a rate different to that for unretracted trials, p = 1.03 × 10(-10) . The difference between the distributions of these two subgroups was confirmed by comparison of their overall distributions, p = 5.3 × 10(-15) . Each journal exhibited the same abnormal distribution of baseline means. There was no difference in distributions of baseline means for 1453 trials in non-anaesthetic journals and 3634 trials in anaesthetic journals, p = 0.30. The rate of retractions from JAMA and NEJM, 6/1453 or 1 in 242, was one-quarter the rate from the six anaesthetic journals, 66/3634 or 1 in 55, relative risk (99%CI) 0.23 (0.08-0.68), p = 0.00022. A probability threshold of 1 in 10,000 identified 8/72 (11%) retracted trials (7 by Fujii et al.) and 82/5015 (1.6%) unretracted trials. Some p values were so extreme that the baseline data could not be correct: for instance, for 43/5015 unretracted trials the probability was less than 1 in 10(15) (equivalent to one drop of water in 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools). A probability threshold of 1 in 100 for two or more trials by the same author identified three authors of retracted trials (Boldt, Fujii and Reuben) and 21 first or corresponding authors of 65 unretracted trials. Fraud, unintentional error, correlation, stratified allocation and poor methodology might have contributed to the excess of randomised, controlled trials with similar or dissimilar means, a pattern that was common to all the surveyed journals. It is likely that this work will lead to the identification, correction and retraction of hitherto unretracted randomised, controlled trials.

Concepts: Surgery, Anesthesia, Anesthesiologist, Local anesthetic, Retraction, Journal of the American Medical Association, American Medical Association, Twilight anesthesia


The Obstetric Anaesthetists' Association and Difficult Airway Society have developed the first national obstetric guidelines for the safe management of difficult and failed tracheal intubation during general anaesthesia. They comprise four algorithms and two tables. A master algorithm provides an overview. Algorithm 1 gives a framework on how to optimise a safe general anaesthetic technique in the obstetric patient, and emphasises: planning and multidisciplinary communication; how to prevent the rapid oxygen desaturation seen in pregnant women by advocating nasal oxygenation and mask ventilation immediately after induction; limiting intubation attempts to two; and consideration of early release of cricoid pressure if difficulties are encountered. Algorithm 2 summarises the management after declaring failed tracheal intubation with clear decision points, and encourages early insertion of a (preferably second-generation) supraglottic airway device if appropriate. Algorithm 3 covers the management of the ‘can’t intubate, can’t oxygenate’ situation and emergency front-of-neck airway access, including the necessity for timely perimortem caesarean section if maternal oxygenation cannot be achieved. Table 1 gives a structure for assessing the individual factors relevant in the decision to awaken or proceed should intubation fail, which include: urgency related to maternal or fetal factors; seniority of the anaesthetist; obesity of the patient; surgical complexity; aspiration risk; potential difficulty with provision of alternative anaesthesia; and post-induction airway device and airway patency. This decision should be considered by the team in advance of performing a general anaesthetic to make a provisional plan should failed intubation occur. The table is also intended to be used as a teaching tool to facilitate discussion and learning regarding the complex nature of decision-making when faced with a failed intubation. Table 2 gives practical considerations of how to awaken or proceed with surgery. The background paper covers recommendations on drugs, new equipment, teaching and training.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Surgery, Obstetrics, Anesthesia, Endotracheal tube, Caesarean section, Pulmonary aspiration


We examined the prevalence of novel acronyms in the titles of anaesthetic and related studies and the response of anaesthetists to them. We separately analysed trainee-led research projects in the UK supported by the Research and Audit Federation of Trainees (RAFT), and a 10-year cohort of papers identified using the PubMed literature search tool. We also conducted a survey of 20 anaesthetists within our institution regarding the utility and impact of titles containing acronyms, and their recall of the associated topics. Finally, we developed a scoring system for acronym accuracy and complexity, the ORigin of AcroNym letterinG Used Term AppropriateNess (ORANGUTAN) score, and measured the progression of acronym usage over the 10-year period studied. Our results show that while acronyms themselves are sometimes considered memorable, they do not aid recall of topics and are, in general, not considered helpful. There has been an increase in the prevalence of acronymic titles over 10 years, and in the complexity of acronyms used, suggesting that there is currently a selective pressure favouring the use of acronyms even if they are of limited benefit.


Previous guidelines on consent for anaesthesia were issued by the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland in 1999 and revised in 2006. The following guidelines have been produced in response to the changing ethical and legal background against which anaesthetists, and also intensivists and pain specialists, currently work, while retaining the key principles of respect for patients' autonomy and the need to provide adequate information. The main points of difference between the relevant legal frameworks in England and Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are also highlighted.

Concepts: United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, England, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Northern Europe


There has been increased interest in the prophylactic and therapeutic use of high-flow nasal oxygen in patients with, or at risk of, non-hypercapnic respiratory failure. There are no randomised trials examining the efficacy of high-flow nasal oxygen in high-risk cardiac surgical patients. We sought to determine whether routine administration of high-flow nasal oxygen, compared with standard oxygen therapy, leads to reduced hospital length of stay after cardiac surgery in patients with pre-existing respiratory disease at high risk for postoperative pulmonary complications. Adult patients with pre-existing respiratory disease undergoing elective cardiac surgery were randomly allocated to receive high-flow nasal oxygen (n = 51) or standard oxygen therapy (n = 49). The primary outcome was hospital length of stay and all analyses were carried out on an intention-to-treat basis. Median (IQR [range]) hospital length of stay was 7 (6-9 [4-30]) days in the high-flow nasal oxygen group and 9 (7-16 [4-120]) days in the standard oxygen group (p=0.012). Geometric mean hospital length of stay was 29% lower in the high-flow nasal group (95%CI 11-44%, p = 0.004). High-flow nasal oxygen was also associated with fewer intensive care unit re-admissions (1/49 vs. 7/45; p = 0.026). When compared with standard care, prophylactic postoperative high-flow nasal oxygen reduced hospital length of stay and intensive care unit re-admission. This is the first randomised controlled trial examining the effect of prophylactic high-flow nasal oxygen use on patient-centred outcomes in cardiac surgical patients at high risk for postoperative respiratory complications.


The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between nursing staff emotions and their surrounding environment, using the ancient system of feng shui. Two orientations of critical care bed spaces (wind and water groups, respectively) were mapped using a western bagua. Energy or ‘chi’ scores for nine emotions were calculated based on the positive or negative flow of chi in each of the two groups. During a two-week period, nursing staff were allocated to work in a bed space in either the wind or water groups; nursing staff who were not allocated to a study bed space acted as a control group. Participating nursing staff completed a questionnaire, ranking nine emotional states and their overall inner harmony, using a 11-point chi scale. In total, 108 questionnaires were completed. Critical bed space orientation according to feng shui principles was not related to nurse-reported chi scores or inner harmony (p > 0.05 for all measurements). There was also poor correlation between the bagua-predicted and reported chi scores for both the wind and water groups (R2  = 0.338 and 0.093, respectively). The use of feng shui to guide the layout of critical care bed spaces does not improve the emotional well-being of nursing staff.

Concepts: Energy, Cultural studies, Emotion, Emotions and culture, Qi, Feng shui


Since its introduction in 1965, minimum alveolar concentration (MAC) has served as the standard measure of potency for volatile anaesthetic agents. It is defined as the minimum alveolar concentration of inhaled anaesthetic at which 50% of people do not move in response to a noxious stimulus. Within the last 20 years, it has been discovered that volatile anaesthetics inhibit mobility largely through action on the spinal cord, whereas the amnesic and hypnotic effects are mediated by the brain. Studies suggest that the concentration of volatile anaesthetic needed to prevent explicit memory from developing, and to produce unconsciousness, is usually substantially lower than the concentration required to prevent movement in response to surgery. This review highlights the contributions and limitations of MAC and its derivatives as metrics of anaesthetic potency with respect to particular behavioural outcomes. Recent evidence is presented suggesting that a protocol that alerts anaesthetists whenever MAC falls to < 0.5 or 0.7 has the potential to decrease intra-operative awareness with explicit recall, possibly to a similar extent as does a protocol based on processed electroencephalography-driven alerting.

Concepts: Psychology, Anesthesia, Morphine, Hypnosis, General anaesthetic, Anesthetics, Volatile anaesthetic, Anaesthetic vaporiser