The incidence of fetal heart rate changes after intrathecal fentanyl labor analgesia

Craig M. Palmer, James E. Maciulla, Randal C. Cork, Wallace M. Nogami, Kenneth Gossler, Diane Alves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


We performed a retrospective review to compare the incidence of new fetal heart rate abnormalities after institution of either intrathecal fentanyl or conventional epidural labor analgesia. In chronological order, the first 100 parturients in active labor who had received epidural analgesia and had recorded fetal heart rate (FHR) traces for 30 min before and after injection were identified, as were the first 100 parturients who had received intrathecal fentanyl analgesia. A perinatologist blinded to the anesthetic technique evaluated each recording and identified any changes in the FHR between the before and after tracings. The incidence of new "negative" (implying worsened fetal status) changes was 6% in the epidural group and 12% in the intrathecal group (P > 0.05, not significant). There were no differences in incidence or degree of blood pressure change, need for cesarean delivery, neonatal outcome, parity, or oxytocin use. No parturient required urgent or emergent cesarean delivery, and all changes resolved within the 30-min observation period. A much larger study would be required to determine whether this six percentage point difference represents a true difference between groups, and its clinical significance. Implications: We compared the incidence of fetal heart rate changes after two techniques of labor analgesia. Both techniques were associated with a low (6%-12%) incidence of changes, but a much larger series would be required to determine whether this represents a true difference. No difference in neonatal outcome was found.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-581
Number of pages5
JournalAnesthesia and analgesia
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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