A 30-year-old woman cuts her finger on a glass jar. She goes to the clinic and needs to have sutures on her right ring finger. What would you recommend for anesthesia to prepare the patient for repair?
A. 1% lidocaine.
B. 1% lidocaine with epinephrine.
Myth: You should not use lidocaine with epinephrine on a digit.
Many of us were taught to avoid the use of epinephrine on digits because of the concern of precipitating digital ischemia. This was a common warning in emergency and surgical textbooks (J.C. Vance. Anesthesia. R.K. Roenigk, H.H. Roenigk [Eds.], Dermatologic Surgery, Principles and Practice [2nd ed.], Marcel Decker, New York, N.Y. , pp. 31-52.).
Over the past 20 years, there has been a growing body of evidence that the concern is unwarranted and that there may be benefit to the addition of epinephrine.
Dr. Bradon J. Wilhelmi and his colleagues performed a randomized, double-blind trial comparing lidocaine with epinephrine (31 patients) and lidocaine (29 patients) in patients with traumatic injuries or elective procedures ( Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 2001;107:393-7 ). The need for control of bleeding required digital tourniquet use in 20 of 29 block procedures with plain lidocaine and in 9 of 31 procedures using lidocaine with epinephrine (P < .002). There were no complications in the patients who received lidocaine with epinephrine.
A retrospective study was done by Dr. Saeed Chowdhry and his colleagues of 1,111 patients who had hand surgery and received digital blocks ( Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 2010;126:2031-4 ). A total of 611 patients received lidocaine with epinephrine, and 500 patients received lidocaine alone. The concentration of lidocaine with epinephrine was 1:100,000, with an average dose of 4.33 cc.
There were no cases of digital gangrene or other complications because of the use of epinephrine in this retrospective study.
In a large, retrospective study of nine hand surgeons’ practices, looking at 3,110 cases of elective injection of low-dose epinephrine in hands and fingers, there were no cases of digital tissue loss or need for phentolamine rescue ( J. Hand Surg. Am. 2005;30:1061-7 ).
Several studies have been done using epinephrine digital injections of the toes. In a prospective, randomized, controlled trial, 44 patients undergoing phenolization matricectomy involving digital block injection of 70 toes received either anesthetic and epinephrine or anesthetic and digital tourniquet ( J. Eur. Acad. Dermatol. Venereol. 2014 [doi:10.1111/jdv.12746] ). The outcome measures were rate of recurrence, bleeding, pain, and duration of anesthetic effect.
There was no difference in recurrence rates, but postoperative bleeding was higher in the procedures done with digital tourniquet and no epinephrine (P = .001). Anesthetic effect as measured by less pain and duration of effect was superior in the patients receiving digital block with epinephrine (P = .001).
In another study looking at chemical matricectomy, Dr. Cevdet Altinyazar and his colleagues randomized patients to receive either 2% lidocaine or lidocaine with epinephrine for anesthesia for chemical matricectomy of ingrown toenails of the great toe ( Dermatol. Surg. 2010;36:1568-71 ). There was less anesthetic needed in the patients who received lidocaine with epinephrine, and a statistically significant reduction in days of drainage following procedure in the lidocaine with epinephrine group (11.1 days +/- 2.5 days), compared with the lidocaine-only group (19.0 days +/- 3.8 days). There were no complications because of the use of epinephrine.
The belief in this myth is still quite common, despite the evidence from randomized, controlled trials and the experience of more than 3,500 patients who have received epinephrine in the fingers without any complications. The evidence from the podiatry literature on safety in use in the toes mirrors the evidence of safety in the fingers.
Dr. Paauw is a professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, and he serves as third-year medical student clerkship director at the University of Washington Medical School. He is the Rathmann Family Foundation Chair in Patient-Centered Clinical Education. Contact Dr. Paauw at firstname.lastname@example.org .