Background: During the last two decades, epidural analgesia has become 'a gold standard' for labour pain in most Western countries. Newer short-acting opioids given systemically represent an alternative for adequate pain relief without using regional techniques. With this survey, we wish to explore how Norwegian hospitals practice labour analgesia, especially their use of systemic opioids.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to the head of all 46 registered Norwegian labour units in 2005. The questionnaire focused on epidural and the use of systemic opioids. In 2008, the same questionnaire was sent to the 19 largest units reporting >1000 births a year, seeking updated information.
Results: Forty-three of the 46 original questionnaires were returned. An epidural frequency of 25.9% was registered. For epidural treatment, bupivacaine was the preferred local anaesthetic, while sufentanil was the opioid of choice for the majority of units. Pethidine was the most commonly used opioid for systemic administration (77%). All units reported nurse administration of systemic opioids. The intramuscular route was most commonly used, either alone (58%) or in combination with an intravenous (i.v.) administration (34%). Only one unit used i.v. fentanyl. There were only minor changes with the repeated survey, except for one large unit, which reported over a 50% increase in the epidural frequency.
Conclusion: In Norway, the frequency of epidural for labour analgesia is still relatively low, but seems to be increasing. Systemic opioids are often used instead of or as a supplement. Clinical practice seems to be conservative, and newer short-acting opioids are seldom used systemically.