JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Combined spinal-epidural versus epidural analgesia in labour

Scott W Simmons, Neda Taghizadeh, Alicia T Dennis, Damien Hughes, Allan M Cyna
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012 October 17, 10: CD003401
23076897

BACKGROUND: Traditional epidural techniques have been associated with prolonged labour, use of oxytocin augmentation and increased incidence of instrumental vaginal delivery. The combined spinal-epidural (CSE) technique has been introduced in an attempt to reduce these adverse effects. CSE is believed to improve maternal mobility during labour and provide more rapid onset of analgesia than epidural analgesia, which could contribute to increased maternal satisfaction.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the relative effects of CSE versus epidural analgesia during labour.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (28 September 2011) and reference lists of retrieved studies. We updated the search on 30 June 2012 and added the results to the awaiting classification section.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All published randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving a comparison of CSE with epidural analgesia initiated for women in the first stage of labour. Cluster-randomised trials were considered for inclusion. Quasi RCTs and cross-over trials were not considered for inclusion in this review.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three review authors independently assessed the trials identified from the searches for inclusion, assessed trial quality and extracted the data. Data were checked for accuracy.

MAIN RESULTS: Twenty-seven trials involving 3274 women met our inclusion criteria. Twenty-six outcomes in two sets of comparisons involving CSE versus traditional epidurals and CSE versus low-dose epidural techniques were analysed.Of the CSE versus traditional epidural analyses five outcomes showed a significant difference. CSE was more favourable in relation to speed of onset of analgesia from time of injection (mean difference (MD) -2.87 minutes; 95% confidence interval (CI) -5.07 to -0.67; two trials, 129 women); the need for rescue analgesia (risk ratio (RR) 0.31; 95% CI 0.14 to 0.70; one trial, 42 women); urinary retention (RR 0.86; 95% CI 0.79 to 0.95; one trial, 704 women); and rate of instrumental delivery (RR 0.81; 95% CI 0.67 to 0.97; six trials, 1015 women). Traditional epidural was more favourable in relation to umbilical venous pH (MD -0.03; 95% CI -0.06 to -0.00; one trial, 55 women). There were no data on maternal satisfaction, blood patch for post dural puncture headache, respiratory depression, umbilical cord pH, rare neurological complications, analgesia for caesarean section after analgesic intervention or any economic/use of resources outcomes for this comparison. No differences between CSE and traditional epidural were identified for mobilisation in labour, the need for labour augmentation, the rate of caesarean birth, incidence of post dural puncture headache, maternal hypotension, neonatal Apgar scores or umbilical arterial pH.For CSE versus low-dose epidurals, three outcomes were statistically significant. Two of these reflected a faster onset of effective analgesia from time of injection with CSE and the third was of more pruritus with CSE compared to low-dose epidural (average RR 1.80; 95% CI 1.22 to 2.65; 11 trials, 959 women; random-effects, T² = 0.26, I² = 84%). There was no significant difference in maternal satisfaction (average RR 1.01; 95% CI 0.98 to 1.05; seven trials, 520 women; random-effects, T² = 0.00, I² = 45%). There were no data on respiratory depression, maternal sedation or the need for labour augmentation. No differences between CSE and low-dose epidural were identified for need for rescue analgesia, mobilisation in labour, incidence of post dural puncture headache, known dural tap, blood patch for post dural headache, urinary retention, nausea/vomiting, hypotension, headache, the need for labour augmentation, mode of delivery, umbilical pH, Apgar score or admissions to the neonatal unit.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There appears to be little basis for offering CSE over epidurals in labour, with no difference in overall maternal satisfaction despite a slightly faster onset with CSE and conversely less pruritus with low-dose epidurals. There was no difference in ability to mobilise, maternal hypotension, rate of caesarean birth or neonatal outcome. However, the significantly higher incidence of urinary retention, rescue interventions and instrumental deliveries with traditional techniques would favour the use of low-dose epidurals. It is not possible to draw any meaningful conclusions regarding rare complications such as nerve injury and meningitis.

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