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Original Investigation
April 4, 2019

Comparison of Ibuprofen vs Acetaminophen and Severe Bleeding Risk After Pediatric Tonsillectomy: A Noninferiority Randomized Clinical Trial

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Otolaryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Bennett Statistical Consulting Inc, Ballston Lake, New York
  • 4Department of Otolaryngology, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia
  • 5Department of Otolaryngology, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, California
  • 6Department of Otolaryngology, Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, Washington
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019;145(6):494-500. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2019.0269
Key Points

Question  Is the risk of bleeding requiring a return to the operating room when ibuprofen is used for postoperative analgesia after pediatric tonsillectomy with or without adenoidectomy no worse than the risk of bleeding when acetaminophen is used for postoperative pain management?

Findings  In this randomized, multicenter, double-blind, noninferiority clinical trial that included 741 children, the rate of bleeding requiring operative intervention was 1.2% in the acetaminophen group and 2.9% in the ibuprofen group. The criteria to conclude that ibuprofen is noninferior to acetaminophen were not met.

Meaning  Ibuprofen may increase the risk of severe bleeding after tonsillectomy with or without adenoidectomy; further work is needed to understand if shorter duration or combination therapy reduce this risk.


Importance  Ibuprofen is an effective analgesic after tonsillectomy alone or tonsillectomy with adenoidectomy, but concerns remain about whether it increases postoperative hemorrhage.

Objective  To investigate the effect of ibuprofen compared with acetaminophen on posttonsillectomy bleeding (PTB) requiring surgical intervention in children.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A multicenter, randomized, double-blind noninferiority trial was conducted at 4 tertiary medical centers (Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston; Naval Medical Center, San Diego, California; Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, Virginia; Madigan Army Medical Center, Tacoma, Washington). A total of 1832 children were assessed for eligibility (presence of sleep-disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnea, adenotonsillar hypertrophy, or infectious tonsillitis undergoing extracapsular tonsillectomy by electrocautery). Of these, 1091 were excluded because they did not meet eligibility criteria (n = 681) or refused to participate (n = 410); thus, 741 children aged 2 to 18 years undergoing tonsillectomy alone or tonsillectomy with adenoidectomy were enrolled between May 3, 2012, and January 20, 2017.

Interventions  Participants were randomized to receive ibuprofen, 10 mg/kg (n = 372), or acetaminophen, 15 mg/kg (n = 369), every 6 hours for the first 9 postoperative days.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Rate and severity of posttonsillectomy bleeding were recorded using a postoperative bleeding severity scale: type 1 (bleeds that were observed at home or evaluated in the emergency department without further intervention), type 2 (bleeds that required readmission for observation), and type 3 (bleeds that required a return to the operating room for control of hemorrhage). Type 3 bleeding was the main outcome measure. The noninferiority margin was set at 3%, and modified intention-to-treat analysis was used.

Results  Of the 741 children enrolled, 688 children (92.8%) (median [interquartile range] age, 5 [4] years; 366 boys [53.2%]) received the study medication and were included in a modified intention-to-treat analysis. The rate of bleeding requiring operative intervention was 1.2% in the acetaminophen group and 2.9% in the ibuprofen group (difference, 1.7%; 97.5% CI upper limit, 3.8%; P = .12 for noninferiority). There were no significant adverse events or deaths.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study could not exclude a higher rate of severe bleeding in children receiving ibuprofen after tonsillectomy alone or tonsillectomy with adenoidectomy. This finding should be considered when selecting a postoperative analgesic regimen. Further studies are needed to understand if bleeding risk is affected when ibuprofen is used for a shorter duration or in combination with acetaminophen for postoperative analgesia.

Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01605903