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Suspected malignant hyperthermia reactions in New Zealand

Department of Anaesthesia, Palmerston North Hospital, Palmerston North, New Zealand


Early clinical signs, triggering agents, time to onset of reaction, mortality and methods of treatment were identified in 123 suspected malignant hyperthermia reactions. In vitro contracture test results were compared with clinical signs and the Malignant Hyperthermia Clinical Grading Scale. Increased end-tidal carbon dioxide is the earliest sign when not preceded by masseter spasm. Earlier diagnosis reduces the incidence of rigidity and severe metabolic acidosis. The combination of suxamethonium and a potent volatile anaesthetic agent triggers an earlier reaction compared with a volatile agent alone. There has been zero mortality since 1981, essentially due to a combination of advanced monitoring capability, increased anaesthetist awareness of malignant hyperthermia, and dantrolene availability.

DNA analysis has identified nine New Zealand families with ryanodine receptor gene mutations. A positive DNA test indicates malignant hyperthermia susceptibility with “causative” mutations but discordance requires that negative DNA tests are confirmed with in vitro contracture test. This test also demonstrated the shortcomings of the Malignant Hyperthermia Clinical Grading Scale.

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