Review article| Volume 25, P66-74, February 2016

Remifentanil for labor analgesia: an evidence-based narrative review

  • M. Van de Velde
    Correspondence to: Dr Marc Van de Velde, MD, PhD, EDRA, Department of Anaesthesiology, University Hospitals Gasthuisberg, Herestraat 49, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.
    Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Department of Anaesthesiology, University Hospitals Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium
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  • B. Carvalho
    Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Stanford University, CA, USA
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Published:December 21, 2015DOI:


      • Remifentanil patient-controlled intravenous analgesia is increasingly used for pain relief in labor.
      • Remifentanil provides inferior pain relief when compared to neuraxial analgesia.
      • Remifentanil can produce respiratory depression in parturients.
      • Remifentanil should only be used with appropriate safety precautions.


      This manuscript reviews the available literature on remifentanil patient-controlled intravenous analgesia in labor focusing on efficacy and safety. Remifentanil compares favorably to other potent systemic opioids but with fewer opioid-related neonatal effects. However, remifentanil provides modest and short-lasting labor analgesia that is consistently inferior when compared to neuraxial analgesia. The initial analgesic effect provided with remifentanil also diminishes as labor progresses. In several studies, remifentanil induced significant respiratory depressant effects in laboring women with episodes of desaturation, hypoventilation and even apnea. Given the safety concerns, we recommend that remifentanil patient-controlled intravenous analgesia should not be a routine analgesia technique during labor. In cases where neuraxial analgesia is refused or contraindicated and the use of remifentanil justified, continuous and careful monitoring is required to detect respiratory depression to provide safe care of both the pregnant woman and unborn child.
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