Preoperative fasting for preventing perioperative complications in children

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Children, like adults, are required to fast before general anaesthesia with the aim of reducing the volume and acidity of their stomach contents. It is thought that fasting reduces the risk of regurgitation and aspiration of gastric contents during surgery. Recent developments have encouraged a shift from the standard 'nil-by-mouth-from-midnight' fasting policy to more relaxed regimens. Practice has been slow to change due to questions relating to the duration of a total fast, the type and amount of intake permitted.

To systematically assess the effects of different fasting regimens (duration, type and volume of permitted intake) and the impact on perioperative complications and patient wellbeing (aspiration, regurgitation, related morbidity, thirst, hunger, pain, comfort, behaviour, nausea and vomiting) in children.

Search strategy
We searched Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, CINAHL, the National Research Register, relevant conference proceedings and article reference lists and contacted experts.

Selection criteria
Randomised and quasi randomised controlled trials of preoperative fasting regimens for children were identified.

Data collection and analysis
Data extraction and trial quality assessment was conducted independently by two authors. Trial authors were contacted for additional information including adverse events.

Main results
Forty-three randomised controlled comparisons (from 23 trials) involving 2350 children considered to be at normal risk of regurgitation or aspiration during anaesthesia. Only one incidence of aspiration and regurgitation was reported.

Children permitted fluids up to 120 minutes preoperatively were not found to experience higher gastric volumes or lower gastric pH values than those who fasted. The children permitted fluids were also less thirsty and hungry, better behaved and more comfortable than those who fasted.

Clear fluids preoperatively did not result in a clinically important difference in the children's gastric volume or pH. Evidence relating to the preoperative intake of milk was sparse. The volume of fluid permitted during the preoperative period did not appear to impact on children's intraoperative gastric volume or pH contents.

Authors' conclusions
There is no evidence that children who are not permitted oral fluids for more than six hours preoperatively benefit in terms of intraoperative gastric volume and pH over children permitted unlimited fluids up to two hours preoperatively. Children permitted fluids have a more comfortable preoperative experience in terms of thirst and hunger. This evidence applies only to children who are considered to be at normal risk of aspiration/regurgitation during anaesthesia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-280
Number of pages15
JournalEvidence-Based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2006


  • general anaesthetics
  • child health
  • preoperative fasting


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