Traditional epidural techniques have been associated with prolonged labour, use of oxytocin augmentation, and increased incidence of instrumental vaginal delivery. The combined spinal-epidural (CSE) technique has been introduced in an attempt to reduce these adverse effects. CSE is believed to improve maternal mobility during labour and provide more rapid onset of analgesia than epidural analgesia, which could contribute to increased maternal satisfaction.
To assess the relative effects of CSE versus epidural analgesia during labour.
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (December 2006).
All published randomised controlled trials involving a comparison of CSE with epidural analgesia initiated for women in the first stage of labour.
Data collection and analysis
Three review authors independently asssessed the trials identified from the searches for inclusion and extracted the data.
Nineteen trials (2658 women) met our inclusion criteria. Twenty-six outcomes in two sets of comparisons involving CSE versus traditional epidurals and CSE versus low-dose epidural techniques were analysed. Of the CSE versus traditional epidural analyses only three outcomes showed a difference. CSE was more favourable in relation to need for rescue analgesia and urinary retention, but associated with more pruritus.
For CSE versus low-dose epidurals, four outcomes were statistically significant. CSE had a faster onset of effective analgesia from time of injection but was associated with more pruritus. CSE was also associated with a clinically non-significant lower umbilical arterial pH.
No differences between CSE and epidural were seen for maternal satisfaction, mobilisation in labour, modes of birth, incidence of post dural puncture headache or blood patch and maternal hypotension. It was not possible to draw any conclusions with respect to maternal respiratory depression, maternal sedation and need for labour augmentation.
There appears to be little basis for offering CSE over epidurals in labour with no difference in overall maternal satisfaction despite a slightly faster onset with CSE and less pruritus with epidurals. There is no difference in ability to mobilise, obstetric outcome or neonatal outcome. However, the significantly higher incidence of urinary retention and rescue interventions with traditional techniques would favour the use of low-dose epidurals. It is not possible to draw any meaningful conclusions regarding rare complications such as nerve injury and meningitis.