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A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Efficacy and Respiratory Effects of Patient-Controlled Intravenous Remifentanil Analgesia and Patient-Controlled Epidural Analgesia in Laboring Women

Stocki, Daniel MD*†; Matot, Idit MD; Einav, Sharon MD; Eventov-Friedman, Smadar MD§; Ginosar, Yehuda MBBS*; Weiniger, Carolyn F. MB ChB*‖

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e3182a7cd1b
Obstetric Anesthesiology: Research Report

BACKGROUND: Safe and effective alternatives are required in labor when epidural analgesia is not appropriate. We hypothesized that patient-controlled IV remifentanil labor analgesia would not be inferior to patient-controlled epidural labor analgesia.

METHODS: This randomized nonblinded controlled noninferiority study in healthy women with a singleton fetus and vertex presentation was performed at 1 site. Women were randomized to receive patient-controlled IV analgesia titrated from 20 mcg up to a maximum bolus dose of 60 mcg with a lockout interval of 1 to 2 minutes, or patient-controlled epidural analgesia 0.1% bupivacaine with 2 mcg/mL fentanyl (initiation bolus 15 mL; maintenance bolus 10 mL, lockout interval 20 minutes, basal infusion 5 mL/h). Crossover was permitted after 30 minutes. The primary study outcome was efficacy (assessed as hourly numerical rating scale [NRS] pain score [11-point NRS] and maternal satisfaction [11-point NRS]); the secondary outcome was safety (maternal apnea). Supplementary oxygen was administered continuously during the respiratory monitoring period. During the first hour of analgesia, the heart rate, respiratory rate, pulse oximetry (SpO2), and end-tidal CO2, as an indication of apnea, were compared. Apnea lasting >40 seconds was managed by light stimulation by the attending anesthesiologist.

RESULTS: Forty women were recruited to the following groups: remifentanil n = 19 (1 exclusion), epidural n = 20. Four crossed over: 3 from the remifentanil to epidural group and 1 from the epidural to remifentanil group. Mean (± SD) baseline NRS pain scores were similar, 8.4 ± 1.5 for remifentanil and 8.7 ± 1.2 for epidural analgesia, P = 0.52. Baseline adjusted mean NRS reduction at 30 minutes for remifentanil was −4.5 (± 0.6) vs −7.1(± 0.6) for epidural analgesia, P < 0.0001 for both. Pain score at 30 minutes was 3.7 ± 2.8 for remifentanil and 1.5 ± 2.2 for epidural analgesia, P = 0.009. Remifentanil was inferior to epidural analgesia with respect to the NRS at all time points, because the observed difference in NRS was greater than the expected −1.5 units. Maternal satisfaction was 8.6 ± 1.4 for the remifentanil group and 9.1 ± 1.5 for epidural group, P = 0.26. Mean respiratory rate was lower in the remifentanil group, 18 ± 4 vs 21 ± 4 breaths/min in the epidural group, P = 0.03. Mean SpO2 was lower in the remifentanil group 96.8% ± 1.4 vs 98.4 ± 1.2 for epidural group, P < 0.0001. There were 9 apnea events; all occurred in 5 women receiving remifentanil (5/19 [26.3%], P = 0.046). Apgar scores and neonatal respiratory outcomes were similar.

CONCLUSION: IV remifentanil is inferior to epidural analgesia for provision of labor analgesia; however, remifentanil does provide a satisfactory level of labor analgesia. Laboring women receiving remifentanil require suitable monitoring to detect and alert for apnea.

Published ahead of print October 22, 2013

From the *Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem; Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care, Tel Aviv Medical Center, Tel Aviv; Intensive Care Unit, Shaare Zedek Medical Center; §Department of Neonatology, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel; and Department of Anesthesia, Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford, California.

Accepted for publication July 17, 2013.

Published ahead of print October 22, 2013

Funding: This study was supported by a research grant for Anesthesiologists from the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel. Oridion® provided the capnography equipment, developed the dedicated software, and provided the mathematician who performed data extraction. Neither the funding body nor Oridion® had a role in study design, data interpretation, writing of the manuscript, or manuscript submission for publication.

Conflict of Interest: See Disclosures at the end of the article.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Carolyn F. Weiniger, MB ChB, Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem 91120, Israel. Address e-mail to

© 2014 International Anesthesia Research Society