Background and objective: Combined spinal–epidural is an alternative technique to epidural analgesia for labour, but its benefits are not clearly identified.
Methods: A prospective, blinded, randomized study was undertaken involving 113 women attending a university hospital obstetric department. Analgesia was initiated with intrathecal bupivacaine 0.25% 1 mL + sufentanil 5 μg in the combined spinal–epidural group (n = 54), and with bupivacaine 0.125% + epinephrine 2.5 μg mL−1 + sufentanil 7.5 μg in the epidural group (n = 59). In both cases this was followed by patient-controlled epidural analgesia with bupivacaine 0.125% (+sufentanil 0.25 μg mL−1). Duration of labour, quality of analgesia and side-effects were compared between groups.
Results: In the combined spinal–epidural group, the onset of analgesia was faster (5 vs. 15 min, P < 0.001), the consumption of bupivacaine was lower (7.5 vs. 11.3 mg h−1, P = 0.003) and there was less unilateral analgesia (14.8% vs. 40.7%, P = 0.002) than in the epidural group. The characteristics of labour were similar in both groups. However, in the combined spinal–epidural group, there was a higher incidence of posterior presentation (25.9% vs. 10%, P = 0.03), pruritus (P < 0.001), hypotension (P = 0.002), somnolence (P = 0.01), nausea (P = 0.02) and one case of meningitis.
Conclusions: The combined spinal–epidural technique provided more effective analgesia during labour than epidural analgesia alone but offered no other advantage. It induced more adverse effects and this should be considered before routinely using the combined spinal–epidural technique.