Nitrous oxide (N2O) has been used nationally as an analgesic in many clinical settings. While neuraxial analgesia is still the most commonly used labor analgesic in the United States, there is increasing use of N2O in labor. Given the reduction in the partial pressure of gases at a higher altitude, N2O has been reported to have reduced analgesic properties. However, there is no study to date evaluating the impact of altitude on labor analgesia and N2O.
We conducted a multicenter retrospective data analysis of a N2O registry collected from 4 institutions over a 3-year period. We compared the impact of altitude on 50% N2O administration for labor analgesia, conversion rates to another analgesic modality, as well as collected side effect frequencies and conversion predictors. Multivariable regression models were used to compare clinical characteristics and outcomes between parturients at high and low altitudes, while adjusting for race, ethnicity, education, and age (logistic and linear regressions for categorical and quantitative outcomes, respectively).
A total of 1856 laboring parturients (age 18–50) were included in the analysis. The odds of converting from 50% N2O to another analgesic modality had no statistically significant difference between high- versus low-altitude institutions (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.13; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.90–1.42; P = .3). Yet, when parturients at low altitude converted from N2O, they were more likely (aOR, 3.03; 95% CI, 1.59–5.88) to choose neuraxial analgesia instead of another analgesic modality when compared to high-altitude parturients. This is possibly due to higher epidural rates at the low-altitude institutions. When parturients at high altitude did convert into another modality, they were more likely (aOR, 2.19; 95% CI, 1.14–4.21) to convert due to inadequate pain relief compared to low-altitude parturients; however, missing data may have affected this finding. Laboring individuals at low altitude were significantly more likely to experience side effects (aOR, 2.13; 95% CI, 1.45–3.12). Those requiring labor augmentation, assisted vaginal, or cesarean delivery converted to neuraxial analgesia significantly more often than those that delivered via spontaneous vaginal delivery (P < .05) in both high- and low-altitude groups.
This is the first study evaluating 50% N2O as a labor analgesic at high altitude. As expected, we found lower side effects at high altitude, likely due to the lower partial pressure of N2O. However, there was not a statistically significant increase in conversion from N2O to another analgesic modality at high altitude and no clinically significant differences in neonatal outcomes.