Intrathecal morphine decreases postoperative pain in standard cardiac surgery. Its safety and effectiveness have not been adequately evaluated in minimally invasive cardiac surgery. The authors hypothesized that intrathecal morphine would decrease postoperative morphine consumption after minimally invasive cardiac surgery.


In this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded clinical trial, patients undergoing robotic totally endoscopic coronary artery bypass received either intrathecal morphine (5 mcg/kg) or intrathecal saline before surgery. The primary outcome was postoperative morphine equivalent consumption in the first 24 h after surgery; secondary outcomes included pain scores, side effects, and patient satisfaction. Pain was assessed via visual analog scale at 1, 2, 6, 12, 24, and 48 h after intensive care unit arrival. Opioid-related side effects (nausea/vomiting, pruritus, urinary retention, respiratory depression) were assessed daily. Patient satisfaction was evaluated with the Revised American Pain Society Outcome Questionnaire.


Seventy-nine patients were randomized to receive intrathecal morphine (n = 37) or intrathecal placebo (n = 42), with 70 analyzed (morphine 33, placebo 37). Intrathecal morphine patients required significantly less median (25th to 75th percentile) morphine equivalents compared to placebo during first postoperative 24 h (28 [16 to 46] mg vs. 59 [41 to 79] mg; difference, –28 [95% CI, –40 to –18]; P < 0.001) and second postoperative 24 h (0 [0 to 2] mg vs. 5 [0 to 6] mg; difference, –3.3 [95% CI, –5 to 0]; P < 0.001), exhibited significantly lower visual analog scale pain scores at rest and cough at all postoperative timepoints (overall treatment effect, –4.1 [95% CI, –4.9 to –3.3] and –4.7 [95% CI, –5.5 to –3.9], respectively; P < 0.001), and percent time in severe pain (10 [0 to 40] vs. 40 [20 to 70]; P = 0.003) during the postoperative period. Mild nausea was more common in the intrathecal morphine group (36% vs. 8%; P = 0.004).


When given before induction of anesthesia for totally endoscopic coronary artery bypass, intrathecal morphine decreases use of postoperative opioids and produces significant postoperative analgesia for 48 h.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • The optimal strategy for acute pain management after minimally invasive cardiac surgery has not been defined
  • Intrathecal opioids provide effective postoperative analgesia in many settings
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • Used at a dose of 5 mcg/kg, intrathecal morphine reduced opioid consumption approximately 50% during the first 24 postoperative hours
  • Additionally, intrathecal morphine reduced pain at rest and with cough for 48 h, although mild nausea was more common among those receiving morphine than those receiving sham saline injections