A comparison of 50, 100 and 200 mg of intra-articular pethidine during knee joint surgery, a controlled study with evidence for local demethylation to norpethidine.

PMID 10204735


Pethidine (meperidine) is a compound with both local anaesthetic and opioid agonist properties. We have in a recent study demonstrated that pethidine could be an interesting alternative to prilocaine in arthroscopy with local anaesthetic technique. Therefore, we investigated, in a controlled randomized double-blind study, the effect of three doses of pethidine compared with a standard local anaesthetic, in patients subjected to arthroscopic knee joint surgery. Ten patients in each group received 50 mg (P50), 100 mg (P100), 200 mg (P200) of pethidine or prilocaine (5 mg/ml) + adrenaline (4 mg/ml) (PC), injected intra-articularly (i.a.) before surgery. We measured pain intensity and discomfort during arthroscopy and pain intensity at rest and at movement, nausea and tiredness for 3 days post-operatively at regular intervals using the VAS-technique. We also measured the concentration of pethidine and its demethylated metabolite, norpethidine, in plasma by collecting blood samples at 20, 40, 60, 80, 140 and 200 min following injection, and in synovial fluid which was collected through the arthroscope at the start and the end of the surgery. It was found that significantly more patients in the P50 group (n = 6) needed general anaesthesia due to intense pain than those in the P100 group (n = 1), P200 group (n = 0) or the PC group (n = 1). The PC group required significantly more analgesics and had a significantly higher calculated total sum of pain scores at movement post-operatively, than the other three groups. The P200 group more often reported tiredness post-operatively than the other three groups. We conclude that 100 or 200 mg pethidine i.a. produces satisfactory anaesthesia for surgery. There was a rapid transfer of pethidine from synovial fluid to plasma, resulting in plasma levels earlier reported to produce centrally mediated effects, such as analgesia and tiredness. We found much higher concentrations of norpethidine in the synovial fluid than in plasma, suggesting a local demethylation in the knee joint tissues. This site of drug oxidation has not earlier been demonstrated neither in vitro nor in vivo. The results suggest that pethidine given i.a. in the dose range of 50 to 200 mg results in analgesia due to both peripheral and central mechanisms. The significant systemic uptake of pethidine can cause unwanted side-effects.

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