Background: Meperidine administration is a more effective treatment for shivering than equianalgesic doses of other opioids. However, it remains unknown whether meperidine also profoundly impairs other thermoregulatory responses, such as sweating or vasoconstriction. Proportional inhibition of vasoconstriction and shivering suggests that the drug acts much like alfentanil and anesthetics but possesses greater thermoregulatory than analgesic potency. In contrast, disproportionate inhibition would imply a special antishivering mechanism. Accordingly, the authors tested the hypothesis that meperidine administration produces a far greater concentration-dependent reduction in the shivering than vasoconstriction threshold.
Methods: Nine volunteers were each studied on three days: 1) control (no opioid); 2) a target total plasma meperidine concentration of 0.6 microgram/ml (40 mg/h); and 3) a target concentration of 1.8 micrograms/ml (120 mg/h). Each day, skin and core temperatures were increased to provoke sweating and then subsequently reduced to elicit vasoconstriction and shivering. Core-temperature thresholds (at a designated skin temperature of 34 degrees C) were computed using established linear cutaneous contributions to control sweating (10%) and vasoconstriction and shivering (20%). The dose-dependent effects of unbound meperidine on thermoregulatory response thresholds was then determined using linear regression. Results are presented as means +/- SDs.
Results: The unbound meperidine fraction was approximately 35%. Meperidine administration slightly increased the sweating threshold (0.5 +/- 0.8 degree C.microgram-1.ml; r2 = 0.51 +/- 0.37) and markedly decreased the vasoconstriction threshold (-3.3 +/- 1.5 degrees C.microgram-1.ml; r2 = 0.92 +/- 0.08). However, meperidine reduced the shivering threshold nearly twice as much as the vasoconstriction threshold (-6.1 +/- 3.0 degrees C.microgram-1.ml; r2 = 0.97 +/- 0.05; P = 0.001).
Conclusions: The special antishivering efficacy of meperidine results at least in part from an uncharacteristically large reduction in the shivering threshold rather than from exaggerated generalized thermoregulatory inhibition. This pattern of thermoregulatory impairment differs from that produced by alfentanil, clonidine, propofol, and the volatile anesthetics, all which reduce the vasoconstriction and shivering thresholds comparably.