, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 305–318

Economic Considerations Related to Providing Adequate Pain Relief for Women in Labour

Comparison of Epidural and Intravenous Analgesia
Review Article

DOI: 10.2165/00019053-200220050-00002

Cite this article as:
Huang, C. & Macario, A. Pharmacoeconomics (2002) 20: 305. doi:10.2165/00019053-200220050-00002


Epidural analgesia and intravenous analgesia with opioids are two techniques for providing pain relief for women in labour. Labour pain is comparable to surgical pain in its severity, and epidural analgesia provides better relief from this pain than intravenous analgesia; a meta-analysis quantified this improvement to be 40mm on a 100mm pain scale during the first stage of labour. Epidural analgesia also has fewer adverse effects. However, providing epidural analgesia for labour pain costs more.

The full cost of providing epidural analgesia can be divided into two components: (i) a baseline-cost component, which captures the costs of hospital care to parturients receiving intravenous analgesia for labour pain; and (ii) an incremental-cost component, which estimates the costs arising from incremental care specific to epidural analgesia. The baseline component may be constructed using hospital cost-accounting data pertaining to actual obstetric patients. The incremental component is constructed from a set of recognised complications of epidural and intravenous analgesia, associated incidence rates and estimates of the costs involved, from society’s perspective.

The incremental expected cost per patient to society of providing epidural analgesia was calculated to be approximately $US338 (1998 values). This cost difference results primarily from increased professional costs (and is particularly sensitive to the method used to estimate the cost of anaesthesia professional services) and increased complication costs associated with epidural analgesia.

A rational social policy for providing labour analgesia must weigh the value of improved pain relief from epidural analgesia against the increased cost of epidural analgesia.

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Brigham and Women’s HospitalHarvard UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnesthesiaStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnesthesiaStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA

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