Efficacy and Safety of Continuous Infusion of Fentanyl for Pain Control in Preterm Newborns on Mechanical Ventilation

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To evaluate the analgesic superiority and the safety equivalence of continuous fentanyl infusions versus fentanyl boluses in preterm infants on mechanical ventilation.

Study design

In this multicenter, double-blind, randomized controlled trial, mechanically ventilated newborns (≤32+6 weeks gestational age) were randomized to fentanyl (continuous infusion of fentanyl plus open-label boluses of fentanyl) or placebo (continuous infusion of placebo plus open-label boluses of fentanyl). The primary endpoint was analgesic efficacy, as evaluated by the Echelle Douleur Inconfort Nouveau-Né (EDIN) and Premature Infant Pain Profile scales. Safety variables were evaluated as well.


Sixty-four infants were allocated to the fentanyl group, and 67 were allocated to the placebo group. The need for open-label boluses of fentanyl was similar in the 2 groups (P = .949). EDIN scores were comparable in the 2 groups; 65 of 961 (6.8%) EDIN scores were >6 in the fentanyl group and 91 of 857 (10.6%) in the placebo group (P = .003). The median Premature Infant Pain Profile score was clinically and statistically higher in the placebo group compared with the fentanyl group on days 1, 2, and 3 of treatment (P < .05). Mechanical ventilation at age 1 week was required in 27 of 64 infants in the fentanyl group (42.2%), compared with 17 of 67 infants in the placebo group (25.4%) (P = .042). The first cycle of mechanical ventilation was longer and the first meconium passage occurred later in the fentanyl group (P = .019 and .027, respectively).


In very preterm infants on mechanical ventilation, continuous fentanyl infusion plus open-label boluses of fentanyl does not reduce prolonged pain, but does reduce acute pain and increase side effects compared with open-label boluses of fentanyl alone.

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