• Pain · Feb 2020

    Remifentanil for abdominal surgery is associated unexpectedly unfavorable outcomes.

    Intra-operative remifentanil infusion for intra-abdominal surgery is associated with worse post-operative pain scores and higher analgesic requirements in the PACU.

    • Sebastian Niedermayer, Jens Heyn, Felix Guenther, Helmut Küchenhoff, and Benjamin Luchting.
    • Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU), Munich, Germany.
    • Pain. 2020 Feb 1; 161 (2): 266-273.

    AbstractInsufficient perioperative pain treatment is known as a highly predictive risk factor for the development of chronic postoperative pain. Remifentanil is an ultrashort-acting opioid that provides quick and efficient analgesia but is associated with the induction of opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Despite these well-known characteristics, this substance is being increasingly used in anesthesia and in a variety of medical fields, such as intensive-care medicine and obstetrics. The aim of our study was to reveal whether remifentanil influences postoperative pain, the requirement for postoperative analgesics, and requirement of antiemetics (as indirect indicator of postoperative nausea and vomiting), as well as the effects on time to extubation and length of stay in the postanesthesia care unit in daily clinical routine. From an electronic medical records database of 55,693 anesthesias, we analyzed data from all patients receiving intraabdominal surgery (visceral, gynecological, and urological) under general anesthesia or combined general-epidural anesthesia by propensity score matching. The administration of remifentanil was associated with higher postoperative pain scores despite a higher requirement of postoperative analgesics. Additional epidural analgesia was not able to avoid this finding. The intraoperative use of remifentanil is associated with a deterioration of pain levels and postoperative analgesic requirement, wherefore the potential benefit of this substance seems to be outweighed by its potential disadvantages. Especially in operative procedures in which high postoperative pain scores are expected, the unreflective use should be critically questioned.

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    This article appears in the collection: Is remifentanil associated with Opioid Induced Hyperalgesia and Acute Opioid Tolerance?.



    Intra-operative remifentanil infusion for intra-abdominal surgery is associated with worse post-operative pain scores and higher analgesic requirements in the PACU.

    Daniel Jolley  Daniel Jolley

    What’s the relevance?

    Remifentanil’s ultrashort-acting kinetics have driven its growth as a reliable technique for maintaining intraoperative analgesia. It is now one of the most widely used synthetic opioids in anesthesia.

    However these unique pharmacological characteristics are associated with both Opioid Induced Hyperalgesia and Acute Opioid Tolerance, and possibly increase the risk of chronic pain after surgery.


    Niedermayer and team performed a large, multicenter, propensity-matched observational study of remifentanil use during intra-abdominal surgery, and its association with postoperative pain in the PACU. Importantly the patients receiving epidural analgesia in addition to TIVA GA were also included. Volatile GA was excluded.

    Among 16,420 patients meeting inclusion criteria, 3,652 GA/TIVA patients received remifentanil and were matched to 3,318 controls, and 829 GA/epi received remifentanil, being matched to 631 controls. Mean remifentanil infusions rates were 0.11 and 0.13 mcg/kg/min for non-EA and EA groups respectively.

    They showed:

    Among GA-only patients, remifentanil was associated with higher PACU pain scores (both on arrival and discharge), greater analgesic requirements and more PONV – however there was no decrease of either time-to-extubation or PACU discharge.

    Interestingly, the epidural analgesia cohort also showed higher PACU pain scores when receiving remifentanil.

    The rapid nociceptive changes due to remifentil are well known, however real clincial consequences remain unclear. This large observational study highlights the detrimental analgesic effects of remifentanil in the most immediate post-op period, reminding anesthetists and anesthesiologists that gold-standard intraoperative analgesia may come at a cost.

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    Explore collected articles answering: Is remifentanil associated with Opioid Induced Hyperalgesia and Acute Opioid Tolerance?

    Daniel Jolley  Daniel Jolley

    Although we know that OIH and AOT are issues for remifentanil and may explain the PACU analgesia differences observed in this study, it’s also possible that worse PACU pain scores occur because anesthetists/anesthesiologists have not adequately transitioned from short-acting to longer-acting analgesics at the end of the case.

    That is, the findings may represent inadequate pre-emergence analgesia because of the complexity of managing pharmacokinetic transitions, rather than a direct pharmacodynamic effect of remifentanil...

    My money is still on this being acute hyperalgesia and tolerance, but keep an open mind...

    Daniel Jolley  Daniel Jolley


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