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Case Reports
, 41 (2), 125-32

Respiratory Depression Associated With Patient-Controlled Analgesia: A Review of Eight Cases

Case Reports

Respiratory Depression Associated With Patient-Controlled Analgesia: A Review of Eight Cases

R C Etches. Can J Anaesth.


Patient-controlled iv delivery of opioids for postoperative pain management is a popular alternative to the traditional im route of administration. However, occasional patients receiving opioids in this manner develop severe respiratory depression. The purpose of this paper is to determine the incidence of, and factors contributing to, the development of this complication. To do this, the Office of Medical Quality Improvement retrospectively searched for reports of respiratory depression in a database compiled from the charts of approximately 1600 patients who had received PCA at the University of Alberta Hospitals in 1992. Eight cases of serious respiratory depression were detected. Factors associated with the occurrence of respiratory depression included the concurrent use of a background infusion, advanced age, concomitant administration of sedative/hypnotic medications, and pre-existing sleep apnoea syndrome. No cases were attributed to operator error or equipment malfunction. In conclusion, the risk of respiratory depression with patient-controlled opioid administration is similar to that observed when opioids are delivered by the traditional im or spinal routes. The safe and effective use of patient-controlled analgesia depends upon knowledgeable medical and nursing staff, clearly defined nursing policy and procedures, and frequent patient follow-up.

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