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Anesthesiologists' practice patterns for treatment of postoperative nausea and vomiting in the ambulatory Post Anesthesia Care Unit

Alex Macario1*, Louis Claybon2 and Joseph V Pergolizzi3

Author affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesia, and Health Research & Policy, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA

2 Mercy Hospital Anderson, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

3 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Anesthesiology 2006, 6:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2253-6-6

Published: 1 June 2006



When patients are asked what they find most anxiety provoking about having surgery, the top concerns almost always include postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV). Only until recently have there been any published recommendations, mostly derived from expert opinion, as to which regimens to use once a patient develops PONV. The goal of this study was to assess the responses to a written survey to address the following questions: 1) If no prophylaxis is administered to an ambulatory patient, what agent do anesthesiologists use for treatment of PONV in the ambulatory Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)?; 2) Do anesthesiologists use non-pharmacologic interventions for PONV treatment?; and 3) If a PONV prophylaxis agent is administered during the anesthetic, do anesthesiologists choose an antiemetic in a different class for treatment?


A questionnaire with five short hypothetical clinical vignettes was mailed to 300 randomly selected USA anesthesiologists. The types of pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions for PONV treatment were analyzed.


The questionnaire was completed by 106 anesthesiologists (38% response rate), who reported that on average 52% of their practice was ambulatory. If a patient develops PONV and received no prophylaxis, 67% (95% CI, 62% – 79%) of anesthesiologists reported they would administer a 5-HT3-antagonist as first choice for treatment, with metoclopramide and dexamethasone being the next two most common choices. 65% (95% CI, 55% – 74%) of anesthesiologists reported they would also use non-pharmacologic interventions to treat PONV in the PACU, with an IV fluid bolus or nasal cannula oxygen being the most common. When PONV prophylaxis was given during the anesthetic, the preferred PONV treatment choice changed. Whereas 3%–7% of anesthesiologists would repeat dose metoclopramide, dexamethasone, or droperidol, 26% (95% confidence intervals, 18% – 36%) of practitioners would re-dose the 5-HT3-antagonist for PONV treatment.


5-HT3-antagonists are the most common choice for treatment of established PONV for outpatients when no prophylaxis is used, and also following prophylactic regimens that include a 5HT3 antagonist, regardless of the number of prophylactic antiemetics given. Whereas 3% – 7% of anesthesiologists would repeat dose metoclopramide, dexamethasone, or droperidol, 26% of practitioners would re-dose the 5-HT3-antagonist for PONV treatment.