The frequency and timing of respiratory depression in 1524 postoperative patients treated with systemic or neuraxial morphine

Arie Shapiro, Edna Zohar, Ruth Zaslansky, David Hoppenstein, Shay Shabat, Brian Fredman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Objective: To describe the frequency and timing of intravenous patient-controlled analgesia (IV-PCA) or neuraxial morphine-induced postoperative respiratory depression. Design: Audit of data captured by routine quality assurance of the acute pain protocols that were implemented by nurses performing routine postoperative care. Setting: The surgical wards of a university-affiliated, 700-bed, tertiary hospital. Patients and Interventions: In real time, the data of all patients enrolled into our Acute Pain Service (APS) were entered and stored in the APS database. Thereafter, patients who had received IV morphine via a PCA device or neuraxial morphine between January 1999 and December 2002 were isolated. From this subset, all patients in whom a respiratory rate (RR) less than 10 breaths per minute was recorded were retrieved. Measurements and Main Results: From a total of 4500 patients, IV or neuraxial morphine was administered to 1524 patients. Eighteen (1.2%) cases of an RR less than 10 breaths per minute were recorded (13 patients, 4 patients, and 1 patient in the IV-PCA, daily epidural morphine, and single-dose intrathecal morphine groups, respectively). A direct correlation between intraoperative fentanyl administration and postoperative respiratory depression was demonstrated between the IV-PCA (P = 0.03) and epidural groups (P = 0.05). The time from IV-PCA initiation or last neuraxial morphine administration until the diagnosis of respiratory depression ranged between 2 hours and 31.26 hours and 2 hours and 12.15 hours, respectively. Ten (55.6%) patients received naloxone. Conclusion: Morphine-induced respiratory depression may occur at any time during the APS admission. However, the optimal frequency of intermittent RR monitoring is unknown. Furthermore, because multiple variables (age, sex, prior opioid administration, site of operation) may affect morphine-induced respiratory depression, further investigation must be performed to determine the ideal monitoring protocol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-542
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Clinical Anesthesia
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute pain service
  • Analgesia
  • Morphine
  • Neuraxial morphine
  • Patient-controlled analgesia
  • Postoperative pain
  • Respiratory depression


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