Author(s): Mehernoor Watcha, Paul F White
In a recent editorial, Kapur described perioperative nausea and vomiting as "the big 'little problem' following ambulatory surgery."257 Although the actual morbidity associated with nausea is relatively low in health outpatients, it should not be considered an unavoidable part of the perioperative experience. The availability of an emesis basin for every patient in the postanesthesia recovery unit is a reflection of the limited success with the available therapeutic techniques.257 There had been little change in the incidence of postoperative emesis since the introduction of halothane into clinical practice in 1956. However, newer anesthetic drugs (e.g. propofol) appear to have contributed to a recent decline in the incidence of emesis. Factors associated with an increased risk of postoperative emesis include age, gender (menses), obesity, previous history of motion sickness or postoperative vomiting, anxiety, gastroparesis, and type and duration of the surgical procedure (e.g., laparoscopy, strabismus, middle ear procedures). Anesthesiologists have little, if any, control over these surgical factors. However, they do have control over many other factors that influence postoperative emesis (e.g., preanesthetic medication, anesthetic drugs and techniques, and postoperative pain management). Although routine antiemetic prophylaxis is clearly unjustified, patients at high risk for postoperative emesis should receive special considerations with respect to the prophylactic use of antiemetic drugs. Minimally effective doses of antiemetic drugs can be administered to reduce the incidence of sedation and other deleterious side effects. Potent nonopioid analgesics (e.g., ketorolac) can be used to control pain while avoiding some of the opioid-related side effects. Gentle handling in the immediate postoperative period is also essential. If emesis does occur, aggressive intravenous hydration and pain management are important components of the therapeutic regimen, along with antiemetic drugs. If one antiemetic does not appear to be effective, another drug with a different site of action should be considered. With the availability of new antiserotonin drugs, the incidence of recurrent (intractable) emesis could be further decreased. Research into the mechanisms of this common postoperative complication may help in improving the management of emetic sequelae in the future. As suggested in a recent editorial, improvement in antiemetic therapy could have a major impact for surgical patients, particularly after ambulatory surgery. Patients as well as those involved in their postoperative care look forward to a time when the routine offering of an emesis basin after surgery becomes a historical practice.