AIM: Significant side effects of tocolytic and uterotonic substances may be of concern to the anaesthesiologist. Recently, new drugs have been introduced having less side effects for both the mother and the neonate. METHODS: A literature search was undertaken mainly focusing on meta-analyses, to review the possible side effects that might affect the course of anaesthesia and to suggest which precautions should be considered to prevent the occurrence of significant interactions with anaesthetic manipulations and drugs. RESULTS: Magnesium sulphate has a proven benefit in lowering systolic blood pressure and preventing the occurrence of eclampsia, but not as a tocolytic. beta-adrenergic agonists are being abandoned due to the availability of tocolytic agents causing less side effects. Calcium channel blockers (CCB) are frequently used but can cause major maternal cardiovascular complications. Nitroglycerin seems to be appreciated as an acute tocolytic rather than a routine substance during pre-term labour. Cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors are still under investigation but their tocolytic benefit is questionable mainly due to foetal side effects. Atosiban is considered the first-choice tocolytic. With respect to oxytocic drugs, oxytocine, prostaglandines and methylergometrine may all cause serious side effects especially when combined. The cardiovascular side effects of prostaglandins and methylergometrine can be life-threatening. Both oxytocin and carbetocin have a rather low risk for maternal complications. CONCLUSION: Atosiban and CCB are at least as effective tocolytic agents as beta-mimetics but have significantly less side effects. Magnesium sulphate can cause neuromuscular blockade, especially when combined with CCB. Concerning oxytocic agents, short-acting oxyctocin and long-acting carbetocin have the least side effects as compared with prostaglandins and methylergometrine.
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