Patient-controlled epidural technique improves analgesia for labor but increases cesarean delivery rate compared with the intermittent bolus technique

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We tested the hypothesis that patient-controlled epidural analgesia for labor (PCEA) provides better analgesia and satisfaction than the intermittent bolus technique (bolus) without affecting the mode of delivery.


We randomized 187 parturients to receive labor analgesia using either the PCEA or bolus technique. The PCEA group received a starting bolus of 14 mg of bupivacaine and 60 μg of fentanyl in a 15-ml volume, followed by a background infusion (bupivacaine 0.08% and fentanyl 2 μg ml−1) 5 ml h−1 with a 5-ml bolus and 15-min lock-out interval. The bolus group received boluses of 20 mg of bupivacaine and 75 μg of fentanyl in a 15-ml volume.


Parturients in the PCEA group had significantly (P <0.05–0.01) less pain during the first and second stages of labor. There was no difference in the spontaneous delivery rate between the groups, but the cesarean delivery rate was significantly (P <0.05) higher (16.3% vs. 6.7%) in the PCEA group than in the bolus group. Bupivacaine consumption was significantly (P <0.01) higher (11.2 mg h−1 vs. 9.6 mg h−1) and the second stage of labor was significantly (P <0.01) longer (70 min vs. 54 min) in the PCEA group than in the bolus group. Patient satisfaction was equally good in both groups.


The PCEA technique provided better pain relief. This was associated with higher bupivacaine consumption, prolongation of the second stage of labor, and an increased rate of cesarean section.

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