Effects of noxious stimulation on the electroencephalogram during general anaesthesia: a narrative review and approach to analgesic titration

García, Paul S.; Kreuzer, Matthias; Hight, Darren; Sleigh, James W. (2021). Effects of noxious stimulation on the electroencephalogram during general anaesthesia: a narrative review and approach to analgesic titration. British journal of anaesthesia, 126(2), pp. 445-457. Oxford University Press 10.1016/j.bja.2020.10.036

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Electroencephalographic (EEG) activity is used to monitor the neurophysiology of the brain, which is a target organ of general anaesthesia. Besides its use in evaluating hypnotic states, neurophysiologic reactions to noxious stimulation can also be observed in the EEG. Recognising and understanding these responses could help optimise intraoperative analgesic management. This review describes three types of changes in the EEG induced by noxious stimulation when the patient is under general anaesthesia: (1) beta arousal, (2) (paradoxical) delta arousal, and (3) alpha dropout. Beta arousal is an increase in EEG power in the beta-frequency band (12-25 Hz) in response to noxious stimulation, especially at lower doses of anaesthesia drugs in the absence of opioids. It is usually indicative of a cortical depolarisation and increased cortical activity. At higher concentrations of anaesthetic drug, and with insufficient opioids, delta arousal (increased power in the delta band [0.5-4 Hz]) and alpha dropout (decreased alpha power [8-12 Hz]) are associated with noxious stimuli. The mechanisms of delta arousal are not well understood, but the midbrain reticular formation seems to play a role. Alpha dropout may indicate a return of thalamocortical communication, from an idling mode to an operational mode. Each of these EEG changes reflect an incomplete modulation of pain signals and can be mitigated by administration of opioid or the use of regional anaesthesia techniques. Future studies should evaluate whether titrating analgesic drugs in response to these EEG signals reduces postoperative pain and influences other postoperative outcomes, including the potential development of chronic pain.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Review Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Intensive Care, Emergency Medicine and Anaesthesiology (DINA) > Clinic and Policlinic for Anaesthesiology and Pain Therapy

UniBE Contributor:

Hight, Darren Fletcher


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health




Oxford University Press




Jeannie Wurz

Date Deposited:

29 Apr 2021 15:56

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:34

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:






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