Aims: Postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) may be exacerbated by postoperative opioid analgesics and may limit patients' successful use of these medications when used with patient controlled analgesia (PCA). We tested the hypothesis that the rapid change in blood morphine concentration associated with PCA bolus delivery contributed to PONV, and that prolonging its delivery to a brief infusion would result in decreased PONV.
Methods: Patients, who were receiving morphine for pain relief via patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) after total abdominal hysterectomy, received 1 mg morphine sulphate incremental doses either over 40 s with a 5 min lockout interval or over 5 min delivery with a 1 min lockout interval. Episodes of nausea, retching and vomiting, along with the use of morphine and the pain relief obtained, were recorded.
Results: Data from 20 patients in each group were analysed. Contrary to expectations, most patients in both groups reported nausea postoperatively. Those patients receiving morphine over 5 min experienced more episodes of emesis (36) than those receiving the dose over 40 s (17). Most patients receiving the 40 s doses vomited in the first 12 h (median time 8 h), while those receiving the 5 min doses vomited between 12 and 24 h (median time 19 h) (P = 0.01). There were no differences between groups in the visual analogue pain scores or use of morphine between groups.
Conclusions: Reasons for these unexpected findings remain speculative. The high incidence of PONV appears to be inherently high in gynaecological surgery patients and standard antiemetic medication regimens appear to be poorly efficacious. Reasons for the differences in the time-course of emetic episodes between the two groups may be related to differences in the time-course of central opioid receptor occupancy.