Background: We performed a systematic review to assess the efficacy of dexamethasone in reducing postoperative nausea, vomiting (PONV), pruritus, and enhancing postoperative analgesia in patients receiving neuraxial anesthesia with neuraxial morphine.
Methods: We searched Medline (1966-2011), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE, and Web of Science for all randomized controlled trials comparing dexamethasone with placebo for the prevention of PONV and/or pruritus in patients receiving neuraxial morphine as part of a neuraxial anesthetic technique. Data were extracted independently by the authors on the incidence of PONV, pruritus, pain scores at 4 and 24 hours, and use of rescue antiemetics, antipruritics, and analgesics.
Results: Eight randomized controlled trials (4 cesarean deliveries, 4 total abdominal hysterectomies) were included. From these trials, 768 patients were analyzed with 473 receiving dexamethasone and 295 receiving placebo. The doses of dexamethasone investigated ranged from 2.5 to 10 mg. Dexamethasone reduced the incidence of postoperative nausea (relative risk, RR [95% confidence interval, CI] = 0.57 [0.45, 0.72]), vomiting (RR [95% CI] = 0.56 [0.43, 0.72]), and the use of rescue antiemetic therapy (RR [95% CI] = 0.47 [0.36, 0.61]) compared with placebo. There was no evidence of dose responsiveness with respect to its antiemetic effect. Dexamethasone also reduced 24-hour visual analog pain scores (measured on an 11-point scale [0-10]) (mean difference [95% CI] = -0.30 [-0.46, -0.13]) and the use of rescue analgesics (RR [95% CI] = 0.72 [0.52, 0.98]). Dexamethasone did not reduce the incidence of pruritus (RR [95% CI] = 0.98 [0.84, 1.15]). Examination of the funnel plots and Egger's test revealed evidence of publication bias in the primary outcomes.
Conclusion: Dexamethasone is an effective antiemetic for patients receiving neuraxial morphine for cesarean delivery and abdominal hysterectomy. In addition, the doses used for antiemetic prophylaxis enhanced postoperative analgesia compared with placebo. However, dexamethasone was not effective for the prophylaxis against neuraxial morphine-induced pruritus.