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Acta Anaesthesiol Belg. 2009;60(2):75-82.

Patient-controlled intravenous analgesia as an alternative to epidural analgesia during labor: questioning the use of the short-acting opioid remifentanil. Survey in the French part of Belgium (Wallonia and Brussels).

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Department of Anesthesiology, Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc, Université Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.


Childbirth ranks among the most intense experiences of acute pain. Neuraxial analgesia (i.e. epidural or combined spinal-epidural technique) is the most effective way to relieve that pain but it is contraindicated or impossible to perform for some parturients. We designed a survey of the current use of analgesic alternatives to epidural analgesia (EA) for labor pain, specifically the use of opioid patient-controlled intravenous analgesia (PCIA), in the French part of Belgium (Wallonia and Brussels). A questionnaire was mailed to the departmental chair of the hospitals with an obstetric unit, both in university and non-university centers (total of 53 centers). The questionnaire evaluated the availability of EA, the alternatives used when EA was contraindicated, the use of opioid-based PCIA for labor analgesia as well as opioid preference and doses, and finally the reasons for not using opioid PCIA. The response rate was 67.5% (36 centers). Among the responding hospitals, EA was available for 68% (range 25-85%) of labors and deliveries. When EA was not available or contraindicated, a parenteral opioid (piritramide, tramadol or pethidine) was proposed in 19% (7/36) of the centers, Entonox in 11% (4/36), a pudendal block by obstetricians in 28% (10/36) and non-pharmacologic alternatives (i.e. hypnosis, sophrology, baths and massages) in 19% (7/36). In 28% (10/36) of the centers however, no analgesic alternative was proposed. Opioid PCIA was employed in 36% (13/36) of the centers and for an additional 11% (4/36) only in case of intrauterine death. Remifentanil was the first choice (76.5% of the PCIA), followed by sufentanil (23.5%). Other opioids (piritramide, morphine, fentanyl) and ketamine were also administered by PCIA. Forty-five percents of the centers reported never using opioid PCIA by either lack of knowledge (7%), fear of maternal or fetal side effects (48%) and unability to provide a correct supervision of the parturient during PCIA use (48%), opposition from the pediatricians or obstetricians (17%) or because they considered the technique as ineffective to relieve labor pain (17%). In conclusion, the survey demonstrated that, when EA is contraindicated, systemic opioid administered by PCIA is used in almost half of the centers (47%) and that remifentanil is the first choice, particularly when a live birth is expected.

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