Analgesia and sedation in preterm neonates who require ventilatory support: results from the NOPAIN trial. Neonatal Outcome and Prolonged Analgesia in Neonates

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1999 Apr;153(4):331-8. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.153.4.331.


Background: Preterm neonates are exposed to multiple painful procedures after birth and exhibit acute physiological responses to pain. Occurrence of early intraventricular hemorrhage within 24 to 72 hours after birth suggests a role of pain and stress in the multifactorial causation of severe intraventricular hemorrhage and periventricular leukomalacia. We proposed that such neurologic outcomes in preterm neonates who require ventilatory support may be reduced by morphine analgesia or midazolam sedation compared with a placebo.

Objectives: To define the incidence of clinical outcomes in the target study population, to estimate the effect size and adverse effects associated with analgesia and sedation, and to calculate the sample size for a definitive test of this hypothesis.

Methods: Sixty-seven preterm neonates were randomized in a pilot clinical trial from 9 centers. Neonates of 24 to 32 weeks gestation were eligible if they had been intubated and required ventilatory support for less than 8 hours and if they were enrolled within 72 hours after birth. Exclusion criteria included major congenital anomalies, severe intrapartum asphyxia, and participation in other research studies. Severity of illness was assessed by the Clinical Risk Index for Babies, and neonates were randomized to receive continuous infusions of morphine sulfate, midazolam hydrochloride, or 10% dextrose (placebo). Masked study medications were continued as long as clinically necessary, then weaned and stopped according to predefined criteria. Levels of sedation (COMFORT scores) and responses to pain (Premature Infant Pain Profile scores) were measured before, during, and 12 hours after discontinuation of drug infusion. Cranial ultrasound examinations were performed as part of routine practice, and poor neurologic outcomes were defined as neonatal death, severe intraventricular hemorrhage (grade III or IV), or periventricular leukomalacia.

Results: No significant differences occurred in the demographic, clinical, and socioeconomic variables related to mothers and neonates in the 3 groups or in the severity of illness at birth as measured by Clinical Risk Index for Babies scores. Two neonates in the placebo group and 1 neonate in the midazolam group died; no deaths occurred in the morphine group. Poor neurologic outcomes occurred in 24% of neonates in the placebo group, 32% in the midazolam group, and 4% in the morphine group (likelihood ratio chi2 = 7.04, P = .03). Secondary clinical outcomes and neurobehavioral outcomes at 36 weeks' postconceptional age were similar in the 3 groups. Responses elicited by endotracheal tube suction (Premature Infant Pain Profile scores) were significantly reduced during the morphine (P<.001) and midazolam (P = .002) infusions compared with the placebo group.

Conclusions: This pilot trial suggests that preemptive analgesia given by continuous low-dose morphine infusion may reduce the incidence of poor neurologic outcomes in preterm neonates who require ventilatory support. Limitations in the sample size of this pilot study suggest that these results should be confirmed in a large multicenter randomized trial.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / adverse effects
  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / administration & dosage*
  • Conscious Sedation / adverse effects
  • Conscious Sedation / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Midazolam / administration & dosage*
  • Morphine / administration & dosage*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Morphine
  • Midazolam