Background: Traumatic rib fractures are a common condition associated with considerable morbidity and mortality. Observational studies have suggested improved outcome in patients receiving continuous epidural analgesia (CEA). The aim of the present systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) was to assess the benefit and harm of CEA compared with other analgesic interventions in patients with traumatic rib fractures.
Methods: We performed a systematic review with meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis (TSA). Eligible trials were RCTs comparing CEA with other analgesic interventions in patients with traumatic rib fractures. Cumulative relative risks (RRs) and mean differences (MDs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated, and risk of systematic and random errors was assessed. The predefined primary outcome measures were mortality, pneumonia and duration of mechanical ventilation.
Results: A total of six trials (n = 223) were included; all were judged as having a high risk of bias. In the conventional meta-analyses, there was no statistically significant difference in mortality (RR 2.18, 95% CI 0.21-22.42; P = 0.51; I(2) = 0%), duration of mechanical ventilation (MD -7.53, 95% CI -16.32 to 1.26; P = 0.09; I(2) = 91%) or pneumonia (RR 0.49, 95% CI 0.19-1.25; P = 0.13; I(2) = 0%) between CEA and other analgesic interventions. Subgroup analyses and sensitivity analyses, including TSA confirmed the results.
Conclusion: The quality and quantity of evidence for the use of CEA in patients with traumatic rib fractures is low, and there is no firm evidence for benefit or harm of CEA compared with other analgesic interventions. Well-powered RCTs with low risk of bias reporting clinically relevant patient-centred outcome measures are needed.
© 2015 The Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica Foundation. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.