PONV: a problem of inhalational anaesthesia?
Apfel CC, Stoecklein K, Lipfert P.
Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine,
and Outcomes Research Institute, University of Louisville,
501 E Broadway, Suite 210, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.
Best Pract Res Clin Anaesthesiol. 2005 Sep;19(3):485-500


Even nowadays every third or fourth patient suffers from postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) after general anaesthesia with volatile anaesthetics. There is now strong evidence that volatile anaesthetics are emetogenic and that there are no meaningful differences between halothane, enflurane, isoflurane, sevoflurane, and desflurane in this respect. However, when propofol is substituted for volatile anaesthetics the risk for PONV is reduced by only about one fifth, indicating that there are other even more important causes for PONV following general anaesthesia. A main causative factor might be the use of perioperative opioids, but their impact--relative to other factors including volatile anaesthetics--has never been quantified. Patient-specific risk factors have also been shown to be clinically relevant; they are therefore included in the calculation of simplified risk scores that allow prediction of a patient's risk independent of the type of surgery. Although controversial, the well-known different incidences following certain types of surgery are most likely caused by patient-specific and anaesthesia-related risk factors. There is a common consensus that prophylaxis with anti-emetic strategies is rarely justified when the risk of PONV is low, while it is warranted in case of imminent medical risk associated with vomiting or in a patient with a high risk for PONV. A recently published large multicentre trial of factorial design, IMPACT, has demonstrated that various anti-emetic strategies are associated with a very similar and constant relative reduction rate of about 25-30% and that the main predictor for the efficacy of prophylaxis is the patient's risk for PONV. Interestingly, all anti-emetics (dexamethasone, droperidol and ondansetron) work independently, so that their combined benefit can be derived directly from the single effects. The effectiveness of the anti-emetics was also independent of a variety of risk factors, including volatile anaesthetics. This means that any anti-emetic prophylaxis for PONV induced by volatile anaesthetics is equally effective. Of course, the most logical approach for prevention would be the omission of volatile anaesthetics and nitrous oxide using a total intravenous anaesthesia with propofol. However, since volatile anaesthetics are probably not the most important risk factors, it might be even better--if appropriate--to avoid general anaesthesia by using a regional, opioid-free anaesthesia if PONV is a serious problem.
Adverse effects
Obstetric anaesthesia
Contemporary anaesthesia
Anaesthesia and anaesthetics
Anaesthesia: rivalries and discoveries
Consciousness, anaesthesia and anaesthetics
First use of anaesthetics in different countries
Early religious/military opposition to anaesthetics

and further reading

Future Opioids
BLTC Research
Utopian Surgery?
The Good Drug Guide
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World