The role of ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia (UGRA) in reducing the frequency of regional anesthetic-related complications is difficult to ascertain from analyzing the limited literature on the topic. This evidence-based review critically evaluates the contributions of UGRA to improved patient safety, particularly as compared with standard nerve localization tools. Randomized controlled trials that compared UGRA with another form of neural localization and case series of more than 500 patients were used to compare safety parameters. The quality of studies and strength of evidence were graded. Of those randomized controlled trials identified by our search techniques, 22 compared the incidence of postoperative nerve symptoms, 17 assessed local anesthetic systemic toxicity parameters, and 3 studied hemidiaphragmatic paresis. Statistical proof for meaningful reduction in the frequency of extremely rare complications, such as permanent peripheral nerve injury, is likely unattainable. Although there is evidence for UGRA reducing the occurrence of vascular puncture and the frequency of hemidiaphragmatic paresis, as yet there is at best inconclusive scientific proof that these surrogate outcomes are linked to actual reduction of their associated complications, such as local anesthetic systemic toxicity or predictable diaphragmatic impairment in at-risk individuals. This evidence-based review thus strives to summarize both the power and the limitations of UGRA as a tool for improving patient safety.
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