Effect of Direct Fetal Opioid Analgesia on Fetal Hormonal and Hemodynamic Stress Response to Intrauterine Needling

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Whether the fetus can experience pain remains controversial. During the last half of pregnancy, the neuroanatomic connections for nociception are in place, and the human fetus mounts sizable stress responses to physical insults. Analgesia has been recommended for intrauterine procedures or late termination, but without evidence that it works. The authors investigated whether fentanyl ablates the fetal stress response to needling using the model of delayed interval sampling during intrahepatic vein blood sampling and transfusion in alloimmunized fetuses undergoing intravascular transfusion between 20 and 35 weeks.


Intravenous fentanyl (10 μg/kg estimated fetal weight × 1.25 placental correction) was given once at intrahepatic vein transfusion in 16 fetuses, and changes (posttransfusion − pretransfusion) in β endorphin, cortisol, and middle cerebral artery pulsatility index were compared with intrahepatic vein transfusions without fentanyl and with control transfusions at the placental cord insertion.


Fentanyl reduced the β endorphin (mean difference in changes, −70.3 pg/ml; 95% confidence interval, −121 to −19.2;P = 0.02) and middle cerebral artery pulsatility index response (mean difference, 0.65; 95% confidence interval, 0.26–1.04;P = 0.03), but not the cortisol response (mean difference, −10.9 ng/ml, 95% confidence interval, −24.7 to 2.9;P = 0.11) in fetuses who had paired intrahepatic vein transfusions with and without fentanyl. Comparison with control fetuses transfused without fentanyl indicated that the β endorphin and cerebral Doppler response to intrahepatic vein transfusion with fentanyl approached that of nonstressful placental cord transfusions.


The authors conclude that intravenous fentanyl attenuates the fetal stress response to intrahepatic vein needling.

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