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bupivacaine hydrochloride injection, USP - SPINAL Clinical Pharmacology


12.1 Mechanism of Action

Bupivacaine blocks the generation and the conduction of nerve impulses, presumably by increasing the threshold for electrical excitation in the nerve, by slowing the propagation of the nerve impulse, and by reducing the rate of rise of the action potential. In general, the progression of anesthesia is related to the diameter, myelination, and conduction velocity of affected nerve fibers. Clinically, the order of loss of nerve function is as follows: (1) pain, (2) temperature, (3) touch, (4) proprioception, and (5) skeletal muscle tone.

12.2 Pharmacodynamics

Systemic absorption of bupivacaine produces effects on the cardiovascular system and CNS. At blood concentrations achieved with normal therapeutic doses, changes in cardiac conduction, excitability, refractoriness, contractility, and peripheral vascular resistance are minimal. However, toxic blood concentrations depress cardiac conduction and excitability, which may lead to atrioventricular block, ventricular arrhythmias, and cardiac arrest, sometimes resulting in fatalities. In addition, myocardial contractility is depressed and peripheral vasodilation occurs, leading to decreased cardiac output and arterial blood pressure. These cardiovascular changes are more likely to occur after unintended intravascular injection of bupivacaine [see Warnings and Precautions (5.4)].

Following systemic absorption, bupivacaine can produce CNS stimulation, CNS depression, or both. Apparent central stimulation is manifested as restlessness, tremors and shivering, progressing to convulsions, followed by CNS depression and coma progressing ultimately to respiratory arrest. However, bupivacaine has a primary depressant effect on the medulla and on higher centers. The depressed stage may occur without a prior excited stage.

The duration of local anesthesia after administration of BUPIVACAINE SPINAL is longer than that observed after administration of other commonly used short-acting local anesthetic. There appears to be a period of analgesia that persists after the resolution of the block and the return of sensation.

The onset of sensory blockade following spinal block with BUPIVACAINE SPINAL is rapid (generally within one minute); maximum motor blockade and maximum dermatome level are achieved within 15 minutes in most cases. Duration of sensory blockade (time to return of complete sensation in the operative site or regression of two dermatomes) following BUPIVACAINE SPINAL 12 mg averages 2 hours with or without 0.2 mg epinephrine. The time to return of complete motor ability with BUPIVACAINE SPINAL 12 mg averages 3.5 hours without the addition of epinephrine and 4.5 hours if 0.2 mg epinephrine is added. When compared to equal milligram doses of hyperbaric tetracaine, the duration of sensory blockade was the same, but the time to complete motor recovery was longer for tetracaine. Addition of 0.2 mg epinephrine prolongs the motor blockade and time to first postoperative opioid with BUPIVACAINE SPINAL.

12.3 Pharmacokinetics

Systemic plasma levels of bupivacaine following administration of BUPIVACAINE SPINAL do not correlate with local efficacy.


The rate of systemic absorption of bupivacaine is dependent upon the total dose and concentration of drug administered, the route of administration, the vascularity of the administration site, and the presence or absence of epinephrine in the anesthetic solution. A dilute concentration of epinephrine (1:200,000) usually reduces the rate of absorption and peak plasma concentration of bupivacaine, permitting the use of moderately larger total doses and sometimes prolonging the duration of action.


Bupivacaine appears to cross the placenta by passive diffusion. The rate and degree of diffusion is governed by (1) the degree of plasma protein binding, (2) the degree of ionization, and (3) the degree of lipid solubility. Fetal/maternal ratios of bupivacaine appear to be inversely related to the degree of plasma protein binding, because only the free, unbound drug is available for placental transfer. Bupivacaine with a high protein binding capacity (95%) has a low fetal/maternal ratio (0.2 to 0.4). The extent of placental transfer is also determined by the degree of ionization and lipid solubility of the drug. Lipid soluble, nonionized drugs readily enter the fetal blood from the maternal circulation.

Depending upon the route of administration, bupivacaine is distributed to some extent to all body tissues, with high concentrations found in highly perfused organs such as the liver, lungs, heart, and brain.

Pharmacokinetic studies on the plasma profiles of bupivacaine after direct intravenous injection (BUPIVACAINE SPINAL is not approved for intravenous use, and contraindicated for intravenous regional block, i.e. Bier Block) suggest a three-compartment open model. The first compartment is represented by the rapid intravascular distribution of the drug. The second compartment represents the equilibration of the drug throughout the highly perfused organs such as the brain, myocardium, lungs, kidneys, and liver. The third compartment represents an equilibration of the drug with poorly perfused tissues, such as muscle and fat.


The half-life of bupivacaine in adults is 2.7 hours.


Amide-type local anesthetics such as bupivacaine are metabolized primarily in the liver via conjugation with glucuronic acid. Pipecoloxylidine is the major metabolite of bupivacaine. The elimination of drug from tissue distribution depends largely upon the ability of binding sites in the circulation to carry it to the liver where it is metabolized.


The kidney is the main excretory organ for most local anesthetics and their metabolites. Urinary excretion is affected by urinary perfusion and factors affecting urinary pH. Only 6% of bupivacaine is excreted unchanged in the urine.

Specific Populations

Geriatric Patients

The total plasma clearance was decreased and the terminal half-life was lengthened in these patients.

Patients with Hepatic Impairment

Various pharmacokinetic parameters of the local anesthetics can be significantly altered by the presence of hepatic disease. Patients with hepatic disease, especially those with severe hepatic disease, may be more susceptible to the potential toxicities of the amide-type local anesthetics [see Use in Specific Populations (8.6)].

Patients with Renal Impairment

Various pharmacokinetic parameters of the local anesthetics can be significantly altered by the presence of renal disease, factors affecting urinary pH, and renal blood flow [see Use in Specific Populations (8.5, 8.7)].

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