PURPOSE OF REVIEW:
Epidural test dose in obstetric patients: As the application of a test dose after epidural catheter insertion in obstetrics has recurrently been associated with serious adverse events affecting both maternal and foetal outcomes, the question whether to test or not remains a controversial issue.
Present guidelines do not provide clear recommendations in this regard and several recent surveys indicate a heterogeneity in clinical routine.
Physiological alterations during pregnancy and labour restrict the use and also the validity of traditional test agents. Epinephrine is not appropriate to detect a vascular insertion in labour and the application of a local anaesthetic test dose may lead to dose-dependent fatal consequences should the catheter be intrathecal, due to an increased sensitivity in parturients. Given the current practice of opioid-amended-low-concentration epidurals, the waiving of a test dose results at worst in a failed epidural, a stark contrast to the potentially severe to fatal complications of a ‘traditional’ test dose. Hence, an originally preventive measure providing potentially more harm than the consequences of the situation aimed to prevent, should not be recommended. A simple fractionated administration of the initial analgesic dose seems reasonable though.