A predicted difficult airway is sometimes considered a contra-indication to rapid sequence induction of general anaesthesia, even in an urgent case such as a category-1 caesarean section for fetal distress. However, formally assessing the risk is difficult because of the rarity and urgency of such cases. We have used decision analysis to quantify the time taken to establish anaesthesia, and probability of failure, of three possible anaesthetic methods, based on a systematic review of the literature. We considered rapid sequence induction of general anaesthesia with videolaryngoscopy, awake fibreoptic intubation and rapid spinal anaesthesia. Our results show a shorter mean (95% CI) time to induction of 100 (87–114) s using rapid sequence induction compared with 9 (7–11) min for awake fibreoptic intubation (p < 0.0001) and 6.3 (5.4–7.2) min for spinal anaesthesia (p < 0.0001). We calculate the risk of ultimate failed airway control after rapid sequence induction to be 21 (0–53) per 100,000 cases, and postulate that some mothers may accept such a risk in order to reduce potential fetal harm from an extended time interval until delivery. Although rapid sequence induction may not be the anaesthetic technique of choice for all cases in the circumstance of a category-1 caesarean section for fetal distress with a predicted difficult airway, we suggest that it is an acceptable option.
- caesarean section: morbidity
- decision analysis
- difficult airway algorithm
- difficult airway: caesarean section
- failed intubation: treatment