Efficacy and Patient Satisfaction: Sufentanil vs. Fentanyl in Intrathecal Pain Management

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Intrathecal drug delivery systems (IDDS) offer a targeted approach for managing chronic pain by administering medication directly into the spinal fluid. Among the various analgesics used, fentanyl and sufentanil are notable for their efficacy. This article delves into a retrospective study by Seemann and Willis, et al., comparing these two potent opioids in terms of pain reduction, potency, and patient satisfaction.


  1. H1: Both fentanyl and sufentanil reduce chronic pain as measured by subjective pain ratings.
  2. H2: Sufentanil, being approximately 7.5 times more potent than fentanyl, will control a greater proportion of pain variance than fentanyl.
  3. H3: Patients maintained on sufentanil will be more satisfied with pain control over time than patients maintained on fentanyl.

(Hypotheses found in Neuromodulation 2012; 15:194-199.)

Study Overview


Seemann and Willis, et al.'s retrospective study analyzed 97 randomly selected Intrathecal Drug Delivery System (IDDS) patients over two years, examining one year prior to IDDS implant and one year post-implant. All patients received an IDDS in or after 2000 due to concerns about granuloma formations, though no granulomas were identified during the study.

Patient Demographics

  • Total Patients: 97
  • Sufentanil Group: 49 patients (previously treated with fentanyl)
  • Fentanyl Group: 48 patients
  • Catheter Tip Placement: Ranged from T12 to C3, most commonly at T8 or T9.


The study utilized subjective units of discomfort (SUDS), where patients rated their pain on a scale of 1 to 10 at the beginning of each visit. Overall satisfaction with pain relief was measured by a simple "yes" or "no" response to whether they received analgesia.

Study Findings

Pain Reduction (H1)

The study found a significant reduction in pain ratings over time for patients treated with both fentanyl and sufentanil, supporting H1.

Pain Control (H2)

Both drugs controlled a substantial proportion of pain, but sufentanil showed a marginally greater effect than fentanyl, partially supporting H2.

Patient Satisfaction (H3)

Satisfaction with care did not change significantly over time for fentanyl patients. However, satisfaction improved over time for sufentanil patients, supporting H3. Notably, sufentanil patients who were initially dissatisfied with treatment tended to become satisfied over time, and they generally reached satisfaction earlier in treatment compared to fentanyl patients.


The study concluded that both fentanyl and sufentanil are effective alternatives to morphine for use in IDDS. Their greater lipophilicity and aqueous solubility allow for the administration of larger doses, potentially reducing the number of office visits for refills and lowering the risk of granuloma formation.


This fascinating study highlights the nuanced differences between sufentanil and fentanyl in managing intrathecal pain. For a comprehensive understanding, readers are encouraged to review the full article, "Sufentanil Versus Fentanyl: Efficacy and Patient Satisfaction with Intrathecal Pain Management," in the May/June 2012 issue of Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface.

For more drug reviews, visit Hartley Medical's Knowledge Center.


Seeman E.A., Willis K.D., Mueller M.L., Stephenson D.D., Harden C.M., George J.M., Pinkerton L.A., White M.R., 2012 Sufentanil Vs. Fentanyl: Efficacy and Patient Satisfaction With Intrathecal Pain Management. Neuromodulation 2012; 15: 194-199.