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Randomised double blind trial of morphineversus diamorphine for sedation of preterm neonates
  1. C M Wood,
  2. J A Rushforth,
  3. R Hartley,
  4. H Dean,
  5. J Wild,
  6. M I Levene
  1. Academic Unit of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Leeds, The General Infirmary at Leeds
  1. Dr CM Wood Department of Paediatrics, Hull Maternity Hospital, Hedon Road, Hull HU9 5LX.


AIMS To compare the safety and effectiveness of morphine and diamorphine for the sedation of ventilated preterm neonates in a double blind, randomised trial.

METHODS Eighty eight babies were allocated to receive either morphine (n = 44) or diamorphine (n = 44) by bolus infusion (200 or 120 mcg/kg, respectively, over two hours), followed by maintenance infusion (25 or 15 mcg/kg/h, respectively) during the initial phase of their respiratory disease. Serial monitoring of physiological, behavioural, and biochemical variables over the first 24 hours of the infusions was performed. Longer term outcomes were also monitored.

RESULTS Morphine, but not diamorphine, was associated with a mean (SEM) decrease in mean arterial blood pressure of 2.2 (1.0) mm Hg (p = 0.05) over the initial loading infusion. Physiological (blood pressure variability) and behavioural measures of sedation (clinical assessment and sedation scoring) indicated that the two drug regimens were equally effective after 24 hours, but the sedative effects of diamorphine were evident more quickly than those of morphine. Both regimens significantly reduced plasma adrenaline concentrations over the first 24 hours of the infusions. No significant differences in mortality, ventilator days, chronic lung disease or intracranial lesions were noted.

CONCLUSIONS Both drug regimens reduce the stress response to ventilation in preterm neonates. However, diamorphine’s more rapid onset of sedation and morphine’s hypotensive tendency suggest that diamorphine is preferable for the sedation of mechanically ventilated preterm neonates.

  • Both morphine and diamorphine sedate preterm babies undergoing intensive care effectively and to an equal extent over the first 24 hours of infusion.

  • Diamorphine has a more rapid onset of sedation than morphine.

  • Morphine is associated with an initial hypotensive effect which is not seen with diamorphine.

  • sedation
  • opiates, hypotension

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