AAEM Clinical Practice| Volume 58, ISSUE 4, P706-709, April 2020

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Should Antiemetics be Given Prophylactically with Intravenous Opioids While Treating Acute Pain in the Emergency Department?

Clinical Practice Paper Approved by American Academy of Emergency Medicine Clinical Guidelines Committee



      It is common practice for emergency physicians to give parenteral opioids for acute pain, however, some treating physicians have concerns that using parenteral opioids can lead to nausea and vomiting when used alone. Therefore, antiemetics are often given prophylactically with opioids for nausea and vomiting in the emergency department (ED). This systematic review evaluates the use of prophylactic antiemetics with parenteral opioids for the treatment of acute pain in the ED.


      A 10-year literature search using keywords was performed in PubMed for English-language human studies. Abstracts were screened to identify high-quality studies, which then underwent a more rigorous structured review. The recommendations are made based on the literature review.


      Eight articles met criteria for structured review and citation in this article. These include one review article, two randomized controlled trials, three prospective observational trials, one retrospective study, and one pre- and post-intervention trial.


      Based on the literature review, routine use of prophylactic antiemetics are not indicated with administration of parenteral opioids for treatment of acute pain in the ED, as nausea and vomiting are infrequent side effects. The recent literature clearly demonstrates that there are potential undesirable side effects from the use of antiemetics when using opioids. However, one subgroup of patients, those with a known history of nausea and vomiting after opioid use or a history of travel sickness, may benefit from the use of prophylactic antiemetic when being treated with parenteral opioids.


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