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To compare the analgesic efficacy and side-effects of remifentanil intravenous patient-controlled analgesia (IVPCA) with walking epidural analgesia (EDA) during labour.Thirty-nine parturient patients of mixed parity, with normal singleton pregnancies, were randomised to receive either remifentanil IVPCA (RA group) or EDA (EA group). The epidural solution contained ropivacaine 1 mg ml−1 and fentanyl 2 μg ml−1, and the initial dose was 10 ml h−1. Starting bolus of remifentanil was 0.15 μg kg−1, with subsequent steps of 0.15 μg kg−1. Lock-out time was 2 min, bolus infusion speed 2 ml min−1 (100 μg min−1) and there was no background infusion. Visual analogue scale was used for pain assessment. Maternal heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, sedation, nausea/vomiting, itching, satisfaction and fetal/neonatal outcome were recorded.Thirty-seven parturient patients were analysed. Both treatments provided good analgesia, but with higher pain scores in the RA group. Pain reduction at the end of first and during second stage and maximum pain reduction were similar (RA/EA group): 27/26 (P = 0.920), 31/29 (P = 0.909) and 61/59 (P = 0.855), respectively. Maternal satisfaction was similar. Two parturients receiving remifentanil (6%) converted to epidural, one because of inadequate analgesia. Remifentanil produced more maternal sedation, desaturation (SaO2 < 92%) and need for supplemental oxygen. Neonatal outcome was reassuring. Highest mean total dose of remifentanil was 0.70 μg kg−1 (range 0.30–1.05).Remifentanil IVPCA and epidural provided effective analgesia, with high maternal satisfaction scores and reassuring neonatal outcome. Remifentanil produced more maternal sedation and oxygen desaturation. Close monitoring is, therefore, mandatory.