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Br J Anaesth. 2002 May;88(5):637-43.

Non-invasive assessment of cardiovascular autonomic activity induced by brief exposure to 50% nitrous oxide in children.

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  • 1Service d'Anesthésie Réanimation Pédiatrique, Hôpital Armand Trousseau, Paris, France.



The use of the equimolecular mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide is widely recommended for relief of pain in children undergoing minor procedures. Although the benefits and adverse effects of the clinical use of nitrous oxide seem well known, its effects on the autonomic nervous system have never been studied in children. The aim of this study was to evaluate changes in autonomic cardiovascular activity induced by brief exposure to 50% nitrous oxide in children. This study was based on non-invasive continuous recordings of RR-interval and non-invasive arterial pressure. Vascular and cardiac sympathetic activity and cardiac parasympathetic activity were investigated using spectral analysis of systolic arterial pressure variability (SAPV) and RR-interval variability (RRIV). In addition, the sensitivity of the spontaneous baroreflex (SBR) was assessed using the sequences and the cross-spectral analysis methods.


Sixteen non-pre-medicated pre-pubertal children undergoing middle-ear surgery, were studied. Data analysis was performed at three points: baseline, when the end-tidal concentration of nitrous oxide was stabilized at 50%, and after withdrawing nitrous oxide. Low (0.04-0.14 Hz) and high frequency (0.2-0.6 Hz) components of the spectral power of RRIV and SAPV, and SBR sensitivity were calculated using these 2-min data epochs.


Our results show that brief exposure to 50% nitrous oxide in children results in: (1) absence of effect on mean AP and SAPV; (2) attenuation of the low frequency component of heart rate variability with a shift of the sympathetic-parasympathetic cardiac balance toward a parasympathetic predominance; and (3) absence of alteration of spontaneous baroreflex sensibility.


Unlike the results demonstrated in adults, our findings show very few cardiovascular effects of nitrous oxide in children. Furthermore, whereas in adults nitrous oxide is associated with an excitatory cardiovascular profile, in children this agent seems to be associated with a depressant cardiovascular profile. The rapid return to baseline after discontinuation of administration and the absence of baroreflex changes are positive attributes for the use of nitrous oxide in children.

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