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Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia for pain management in labour

Overview of attention for article published in Cochrane database of systematic reviews, May 2018
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  • In the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric
  • High Attention Score compared to outputs of the same age (98th percentile)
  • High Attention Score compared to outputs of the same age and source (93rd percentile)

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5 news outlets
147 tweeters
9 Facebook pages
2 Wikipedia pages
1 video uploader


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539 Mendeley
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Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia for pain management in labour
Published in
Cochrane database of systematic reviews, May 2018
DOI 10.1002/14651858.cd000331.pub4
Pubmed ID

Millicent Anim-Somuah, Rebecca MD Smyth, Allan M Cyna, Anna Cuthbert


Epidural analgesia is a central nerve block technique achieved by injection of a local anaesthetic close to the nerves that transmit pain, and is widely used as a form of pain relief in labour. However, there are concerns about unintended adverse effects on the mother and infant. This is an update of an existing Cochrane Review (Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour), last published in 2011. To assess the effectiveness and safety of all types of epidural analgesia, including combined-spinal-epidural (CSE) on the mother and the baby, when compared with non-epidural or no pain relief during labour. We searched Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register (ClinicalTrials.gov), the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (30 April 2017), and reference lists of retrieved studies. Randomised controlled trials comparing all types of epidural with any form of pain relief not involving regional blockade, or no pain relief in labour. We have not included cluster-randomised or quasi-randomised trials in this update. Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risks of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy. We assessed selected outcomes using the GRADE approach. Fifty-two trials met the inclusion criteria and we have included data from 40 trials, involving over 11,000 women. Four trials included more than two arms. Thirty-four trials compared epidural with opioids, seven compared epidural with no analgesia, one trial compared epidural with acu-stimulation, one trial compared epidural with inhaled analgesia, and one trial compared epidural with continuous midwifery support and other analgesia. Risks of bias varied throughout the included studies; six out of 40 studies were at high or unclear risk of bias for every bias domain, while most studies were at high or unclear risk of detection bias. Quality of the evidence assessed using GRADE ranged from moderate to low quality.Pain intensity as measured using pain scores was lower in women with epidural analgesia when compared to women who received opioids (standardised mean difference -2.64, 95% confidence interval (CI) -4.56 to -0.73; 1133 women; studies = 5; I2 = 98%; low-quality evidence) and a higher proportion were satisfied with their pain relief, reporting it to be "excellent or very good" (average risk ratio (RR) 1.47, 95% CI 1.03 to 2.08; 1911 women; studies = 7; I2 = 97%; low-quality evidence). There was substantial statistical heterogeneity in both these outcomes. There was a substantial decrease in the need for additional pain relief in women receiving epidural analgesia compared with opioid analgesia (average RR 0.10, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.25; 5099 women; studies = 16; I2 = 73%; Tau2 = 1.89; Chi2 = 52.07 (P < 0.00001)). More women in the epidural group experienced assisted vaginal birth (RR 1.44, 95% CI 1.29 to 1.60; 9948 women; studies = 30; low-quality evidence). A post hoc subgroup analysis of trials conducted after 2005 showed that this effect is negated when trials before 2005 are excluded from this analysis (RR 1.19, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.46). There was no difference between caesarean section rates (RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.18; 10,350 women; studies = 33; moderate-quality evidence), and maternal long-term backache (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.12; 814 women; studies = 2; moderate-quality evidence). There were also no clear differences between groups for the neonatal outcomes, admission to neonatal intensive care unit (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.12; 4488 babies; studies = 8; moderate-quality evidence) and Apgar score less than seven at five minutes (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.02; 8752 babies; studies = 22; low-quality evidence). We downgraded the evidence for study design limitations, inconsistency, imprecision in effect estimates, and possible publication bias.Side effects were reported in both epidural and opioid groups. Women with epidural experienced more hypotension, motor blockade, fever, and urinary retention. They also had longer first and second stages of labour, and were more likely to have oxytocin augmentation than the women in the opioid group. Women receiving epidurals had less risk of respiratory depression requiring oxygen, and were less likely to experience nausea and vomiting than women receiving opioids. Babies born to women in the epidural group were less likely to have received naloxone. There was no clear difference between groups for postnatal depression, headache, itching, shivering, or drowsiness. Maternal morbidity and long-term neonatal outcomes were not reported.Epidural analgesia resulted in less reported pain when compared with placebo or no treatment, and with acu-stimulation. Pain intensity was not reported in the trials that compared epidural with inhaled analgesia, or continuous support. Few trials reported on serious maternal side effects. Low-quality evidence shows that epidural analgesia may be more effective in reducing pain during labour and increasing maternal satisfaction with pain relief than non-epidural methods. Although overall there appears to be an increase in assisted vaginal birth when women have epidural analgesia, a post hoc subgroup analysis showed this effect is not seen in recent studies (after 2005), suggesting that modern approaches to epidural analgesia in labour do not affect this outcome. Epidural analgesia had no impact on the risk of caesarean section or long-term backache, and did not appear to have an immediate effect on neonatal status as determined by Apgar scores or in admissions to neonatal intensive care. Further research may be helpful to evaluate rare but potentially severe adverse effects of epidural analgesia and non-epidural analgesia on women in labour and long-term neonatal outcomes.

Twitter Demographics

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Mendeley readers

The data shown below were compiled from readership statistics for 539 Mendeley readers of this research output. Click here to see the associated Mendeley record.

Geographical breakdown

Country Count As %
Unknown 539 100%

Demographic breakdown

Readers by professional status Count As %
Student > Bachelor 108 20%
Student > Master 84 16%
Researcher 52 10%
Other 44 8%
Student > Ph. D. Student 33 6%
Other 95 18%
Unknown 123 23%
Readers by discipline Count As %
Medicine and Dentistry 200 37%
Nursing and Health Professions 111 21%
Psychology 20 4%
Social Sciences 17 3%
Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology 10 2%
Other 44 8%
Unknown 137 25%

Attention Score in Context

This research output has an Altmetric Attention Score of 154. This is our high-level measure of the quality and quantity of online attention that it has received. This Attention Score, as well as the ranking and number of research outputs shown below, was calculated when the research output was last mentioned on 10 April 2021.
All research outputs
of 17,418,198 outputs
Outputs from Cochrane database of systematic reviews
of 11,671 outputs
Outputs of similar age
of 288,155 outputs
Outputs of similar age from Cochrane database of systematic reviews
of 177 outputs
Altmetric has tracked 17,418,198 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these this one has done particularly well and is in the 99th percentile: it's in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.
So far Altmetric has tracked 11,671 research outputs from this source. They typically receive a lot more attention than average, with a mean Attention Score of 25.1. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 97% of its peers.
Older research outputs will score higher simply because they've had more time to accumulate mentions. To account for age we can compare this Altmetric Attention Score to the 288,155 tracked outputs that were published within six weeks on either side of this one in any source. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 98% of its contemporaries.
We're also able to compare this research output to 177 others from the same source and published within six weeks on either side of this one. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 93% of its contemporaries.