By: 28 October 2013

Two simple, non-drug treatments – aromatherapy and intravenous administration of a simple sugar solution – may be effective new approaches to relieving nausea and vomiting after surgery, report a pair of studies in by Dr Ronald Hunt of Carolinas Medical Center University and colleagues.

“Aromatherapy is promising as an inexpensive, noninvasive treatment for postoperative nausea that can be administered and controlled by patients as needed,” according to the research published in Anesthesia & Analgesia. The second study suggests that intravenous dextrose solution is also useful in managing the common problem of postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV).

In the aromatherapy study, 301 patients reporting nausea after surgery were randomly assigned to receive one of four types of aromatherapy. Two groups received true aromatherapy, with essential oil of ginger or a blend of aromatherapy oils (ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and cardamom) placed on a gauze pad. The other two groups received gauze pads with either rubbing alcohol or, as an odourless placebo, saline solution. Rates of subsequent nausea and vomiting and need for antiemetic medications were compared between groups.

Patients receiving the two aromatherapy treatments had lower nausea scores than those receiving either placebo.

In the second study, Dr Susan Dabu-Bondoc and colleagues of Yale School of Medicine evaluated intravenous administration of a five percent solution of dextrose for prevention or treatment of PONV. Immediately after surgery, 62 patients were randomly assigned to receive the dextrose solution or standard IV fluid.

Postoperative nausea scores were not significantly different between groups, but patients receiving intravenous dextrose did need less antiemetic medications than those receiving standard IV fluids. Patients in the IV dextrose group were also ready for discharge from the recovery room a little earlier.

Postoperative nausea and vomiting is a common complication, occurring in up to one-third of untreated surgical patients. It’s a problem that’s not only unpleasant for patients and associated with increased costs for antiemetic medications, but is also linked to prolonged hospitalisation and an increased risk of readmission. Effective, non-drug approaches to preventing and managing PONV are needed.