Dexamethasone for the treatment of established postoperative nausea and vomiting: A randomised dose finding trial

Christoph Czarnetzki*, Eric Albrecht, Jules Desmeules, Christian Kern, Jean-Baptiste Corpataux, Sylvain Gander, Sander M J van Kuijk, Martin R Tramèr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Web of Science)


BACKGROUND: Dexamethasone is widely used for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) but little is known about its efficacy for the treatment of established PONV.

OBJECTIVE: To test the antiemetic efficacy of intravenous dexamethasone for the treatment of established PONV in adults undergoing surgery under general anaesthesia and to determine whether there is dose-responsiveness.

DESIGN: The DexPonv trial is a multicentre, placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind, dose-finding study. Inclusion of patients was between September 2012 and November 2017. Follow-up for PONV symptoms was for 24 h. Thirty days postoperatively, patients were contacted by study nurses for any information on postoperative bleeding and infection.

SETTING: Four public hospitals in Switzerland.

PATIENTS: A total of 803 adults scheduled for elective surgery without any antiemetic prophylaxis signed the consent form; 714 were included. Among those, 319 had PONV and 281 patients were eventually randomised (intention to treat population and safety set). The per protocol set consisted of 260 patients.

INTERVENTIONS: Patients with PONV symptoms (including retching) were randomised to a single intravenous dose of dexamethasone 3, 6 or 12 mg or matching placebo.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary endpoint was the absence of further nausea or vomiting (including retching), within 24 h after administration of the study drug.

RESULTS: Dexamethasone was ineffective during the first 24 h, whatever the dosage, compared to placebo, even when the model was adjusted for known risk factors (P = 0.170). There were no differences in the time to treatment failure or the quality of sleep during the first night. There was a positive correlation between the dose of dexamethasone and blood glucose concentrations (P < 0.001), but not with bleeding risk, wound infections or other adverse effects.

CONCLUSION: This randomised trial failed to show antiemetic efficacy of any of the tested intravenous regimens of dexamethasone for the treatment of established PONV in adults undergoing surgery under general anaesthesia.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-557
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Anaesthesiology
Issue number6
Early online date16 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


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