Single dose paracetamol (acetaminophen), with and without codeine, for postoperative pain

A Moore, S Collins, D Carroll, H McQuay, J Edwards
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2000, (2): CD001547

BACKGROUND: Patient surveys have shown that postoperative pain is often not managed well, and there is a need to assess the efficacy and safety of commonly used analgesics as newer treatments become available. Paracetamol (acetaminophen) is an important non-opiate analgesic, commonly prescribed, as well as being available for retail sale. This review seeks to examine the efficacy of paracetamol alone and in combination with codeine, and also considers adverse effects.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the analgesic efficacy and adverse effects of a single dose of oral paracetamol (acetaminophen) alone and in combination with codeine for moderate to severe postoperative pain.

SEARCH STRATEGY: Published trials were identified from: Medline (1966 to May 1996), Embase (1980 to 1996), Cochrane Library (Issue 2 1996) and the Oxford Pain Relief Database (1950 to 1994). Additional trials were identified from reference lists of retrieved studies. Date of most recent searches: July 1998.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Inclusion criteria were: full journal publication, postoperative pain, postoperative oral administration, adult patients, baseline pain of moderate to severe intensity, double-blind design, and random allocation to treatment groups which compared paracetamol with placebo or a combination of paracetamol and codeine with either placebo or the same dose of paracetamol alone.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted by two independent reviewers, and trials were quality scored. Summed pain intensity and pain relief data were extracted and converted into dichotomous information to yield the number of patients with at least 50% pain relief. This was used to calculate the relative benefit and number-needed-to-treat (NNT) for one patient to achieve at least 50% pain relief over 4 to 6 hours compared with placebo. Adverse effects were used to calculate relative risk and number-needed-to-harm (NNH).

MAIN RESULTS: We found 40 trials of paracetamol against placebo (4171 patients), 22 trials of paracetamol plus codeine against placebo (1407 patients) and 12 trials of paracetamol plus codeine against the same dose of paracetamol (794 patients). In postoperative pain paracetamol 1000 mg had an NNT of 4.6 (3.8-5.4) for at least 50% pain relief when compared with placebo, and paracetamol 600/650 mg had an NNT of 5.3 (4.1-7.2). Paracetamol 600/650 mg plus codeine 60 mg had an NNT of 3. 6 (2.9-4.5). Comparing paracetamol plus codeine 60 mg with the same dose of paracetamol alone gave an NNT of 7.7 (5.1-17) for at least 50% pain relief. Adverse effects: Relative risk estimates for paracetamol 600/650 mg plus codeine 60 mg versus placebo showed a significant difference for 'drowsiness'/somnolence (NNH 11 (7.5- 0)) and dizziness (NNH 27 (15-164)) but no significant difference for nausea/vomiting.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Paracetamol is an effective analgesic with a low incidence of adverse effects. The addition of codeine 60 mg to paracetamol produces additional pain relief even in single oral doses, but may be accompanied by an increase in drowsiness and dizziness.

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