Background: We tested the hypothesis that patient-controlled epidural analgesia for labor (PCEA) provides better analgesia and satisfaction than the intermittent bolus technique (bolus) without affecting the mode of delivery.
Methods: We randomized 187 parturients to receive labor analgesia using either the PCEA or bolus technique. The PCEA group received a starting bolus of 14 mg of bupivacaine and 60 µg of fentanyl in a 15-ml volume, followed by a background infusion (bupivacaine 0.08% and fentanyl 2 µg ml−1) 5 ml h−1 with a 5-ml bolus and 15-min lock-out interval. The bolus group received boluses of 20 mg of bupivacaine and 75 µg of fentanyl in a 15-ml volume.
Results: Parturients in the PCEA group had significantly (P < 0.05–0.01) less pain during the first and second stages of labor. There was no difference in the spontaneous delivery rate between the groups, but the cesarean delivery rate was significantly (P < 0.05) higher (16.3% vs. 6.7%) in the PCEA group than in the bolus group. Bupivacaine consumption was significantly (P < 0.01) higher (11.2 mg h−1 vs. 9.6 mg h−1) and the second stage of labor was significantly (P < 0.01) longer (70 min vs. 54 min) in the PCEA group than in the bolus group. Patient satisfaction was equally good in both groups.
Conclusion: The PCEA technique provided better pain relief. This was associated with higher bupivacaine consumption, prolongation of the second stage of labor, and an increased rate of cesarean section.