Original Article| Volume 39, P22-28, August 2019

Serious adverse events attributed to remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia during labour in The Netherlands

Published:November 01, 2018DOI:


      • Serious adverse events associated with remifentanil labour analgesia are rare.
      • Strict maternal monitoring during remifentanil administration is essential.
      • The optimal maternal monitoring during remifentanil use is still under discussion.



      During labour, remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia is used as an alternative to neuraxial analgesia. Remifentanil is associated with hypoventilation and respiratory depression but the frequency of serious maternal and neonatal adverse events is unknown. The aim of this study was to estimate the number of serious adverse events attributed to the use of remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia during labour in The Netherlands and to investigate the circumstances (e.g. monitoring, practice deviations) of these events and the subsequent management.


      In a nationwide survey among obstetricians, anaesthetists and clinical midwives the frequency of serious adverse events was assessed. A questionnaire was sent by email to all 61 Dutch hospitals in which remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia is, or has been, available for labour analgesia. All reported cases were assessed independently by two expert teams.


      We received information from all hospitals. After independent assessments, 17 cases of single maternal desaturation; 10 maternal cases of apnoea, bradycardia and/or cardiac arrest; and two neonatal cases of respiratory depression, over a period of more than 10 years of remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia use, were identified as a serious adverse event. All serious adverse events were resolved without irreversible damage.


      The risk of a potentially life-threatening serious adverse event attributed to remifentanil patient-controlled analgesia seems to be low. All patients recovered without deficit. Adherence to strict monitoring and the attendance of trained healthcare providers is required to safely use remifentanil for labour analgesia.


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