Phenylephrine is the preferred vasopressor for the prevention and treatment of spinal anaesthesia-induced hypotension during caesarean section, because studies on low-risk elective patients found it to have a less detrimental effect on umbilical artery pH compared with ephedrine. However, limited data exist from high-risk parturients and parturients with uteroplacental insufficiency.
We systematically searched for randomised, controlled, double-blinded trials of these two vasopressors in high-risk caesarean sections. We applied conventional meta-analysis, trial sequential analysis, computing the required information size that would exclude type I and II errors, contour-enhanced funnel plot testing for publication bias, meta-regression to assess the dose-response relationship, and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation system (GRADE). The incidence of fetal acidosis (umbilical arterial pH <7.2) was the primary outcome.
Eight trials (712 patients) with low risk of bias were identified. Pooling six studies of patients with preeclampsia and other reasons for fetal compromise, as well as subgroup analysis of the preeclampsia studies, revealed no significant differences in the incidence of fetal acidosis. Trial sequential analysis showed that the required information size was not reached. The funnel plot was not suggestive of publication bias. Meta-regression showed no dose-response relationship. The GRADE score was moderate quality.
Despite several studies and a large number of patients there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation for choice of vasopressor in high-risk caesarean section. Trials with adequate power to detect differences in the incidence of fetal acidosis between ephedrine and phenylephrine are required to provide evidence-based guidance.