Randomized, double-blind comparison of patient-controlled epidural infusion vs nurse-administered epidural infusion for postoperative analgesia in patients undergoing colonic resection

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There is little published evidence of the analgesic efficacy of patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) for postoperative pain relief. The aim of this study was to compare the analgesic efficacy of epidural infusion of bupivacaine 0.125% and fentanyl 4 µg ml−1 administered by either PCEA with a background infusion or nurse-administered continuous epidural infusion (CEI) after major intra-abdominal surgery.


In a double-blind, randomized clinical trial, 205 adult patients undergoing colonic resection by laparotomy received either PCEA or CEI. Pain scores were recorded via a four-point verbal rating scale at 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h after surgery. The administration of epidural top-ups and systemic analgesia over the same period was also recorded, and patient satisfaction questionnaires completed.


The median area under the curve of pain against time was significantly lower in the PCEA group (2 vs 24, P<0.001) as were median summary pain scores on movement (0.67 vs 1.33, P<0.001). Significantly fewer patients in the PCEA group received one or more epidural top-ups (13 vs 36%, P=0.0002) or any systemic analgesics (41 vs 63%, P=0.0021). Patients in the PCEA group were significantly more likely to be very satisfied than in the CEI group (76 vs 43%, P<0.0001).


PCEA provides greater analgesic efficacy than CEI for postoperative analgesia after major intra-abdominal surgery, and a decreased requirement for physician or nurse intervention.

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