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BMJ. 1991 Mar 9;302(6776):564-7.

Bupivacaine versus bupivacaine plus fentanyl for epidural analgesia: effect on maternal satisfaction.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthetics, Birmingham Maternity Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre.



To compare a combination of epidural fentanyl and bupivacaine with bupivacaine alone for epidural analgesia in labour and to evaluate factors in addition to analgesia that may influence maternal satisfaction.


A prospective randomised pilot study.


Birmingham Maternity Hospital.


85 primiparous women who requested epidural analgesia in labour and their babies.


Group 1 mothers were treated with bupivacaine conventionally, group 2 mothers with bupivacaine and fentanyl in a more complex way designed to provide satisfactory analgesia but with less troublesome side effects.


Overall maternal satisfaction, maternal perception of epidural analgesia and its side effects, and aspects of mothers' psychological states during labour, quantified using 100 mm visual linear analogue scales; the frequency of normal and operative deliveries; and measurements of neonatal wellbeing.


Satisfaction was higher in group 2 mothers (median group difference +3 mm, 95% confidence interval +1 to +5, p = 0.012): this was associated with more normal deliveries (difference between proportions 0.23, 95% confidence interval +0.03 to +0.42); greater self control (median group difference -7 mm, -17 to -2, p = 0.003); and reduced unpleasantness of motor blockade (-10 mm, -19 to -5, p less than 0.001), sensory blockade (-5 mm, -11 to -2, p = 0.002) and shivering (-5 mm, -18 to 0, p = 0.046) at the expense of mild itching (0 mm, 0 to 0, p less than 0.001). Group 1 mothers found restricted movements more unpleasant (-1 mm, -11 to 0, p = 0.006) and were more sleepy (-4 mm, -20 to 0, p = 0.032). The addition of fentanyl to bupivacaine reduced the requirement for local anaesthetic (-33 mg, -55 to -15, p less than 0.001) without compromising analgesia. No adverse effects in neonates were attributed to the use of fentanyl.


The already high maternal satisfaction from conventional epidural analgesia can be improved; epidural fentanyl may be combined with bupivacaine to reduce operative deliveries and confer other advantages that may increase maternal satisfaction. Further investigations should be performed to determine the exact mechanisms of these findings and, in particular, to develop a safe method of delivering such analgesia to women.

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