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An infusion of magnesium, given during or immediately after surgery, reduces the proportion of patients who experience shivering in the operating theatre or in recovery from 23% to 9.9%.

Shivering is unpleasant for the patient and may place strain on the cardiovascular system, as it increases oxygen use. A review of 64 trials found that intravenous magnesium was effective compared to placebo without any reported adverse effects.

In the UK, frequent temperature checks and active warming are routinely used in operating theatres. Nevertheless, shivering is still common even when body temperature is normal. It is unclear how many of the trials used active warming in addition to magnesium, so this may limit generalisability of the studies to UK practice.

Intravenous magnesium should be added to the options for managing patients at risk of perioperative shivering, although this review was not able to define an optimum dose or timing.

Why was this study needed?

Despite efforts to keep patients warm and reduce hypothermia, shivering is common among surgical patients, especially those who are younger, who have a lower core temperature, and where surgery is of longer duration.

Previous, much smaller meta-analyses of trials that studied the effect of magnesium on perioperative shivering have had conflicting results. Although other drugs have been tested, they are more expensive and may have safety issues.

This review used a broader search methodology and did not restrict to English language trials, to provide a more conclusive answer to the question of whether magnesium prevents shivering.

What did this study do?

The authors searched for any randomised clinical trials comparing magnesium to placebo or no treatment in surgical patients with shivering as an outcome, even where shivering was not the primary outcome. They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis, then used GRADE methodology to assess the strength of their findings.

Because of the numbers of studies included (64 studies with 4,303 participants), they were able to look at the effects of different routes of administration of magnesium, and conduct trial sequential analysis to ascertain whether further studies were likely to alter their findings. They also carried out sensitivity analyses, restricting the analysis to studies at low risk of bias, to see whether this affected the results.

What did it find?

  • The overall incidence of shivering was 9.9% for patients who received magnesium, and 23% for patients who did not. This represented a relative risk reduction of 58% (risk ratio [RR] 0.42, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.33 to 0.52; 64 trials, 4,303 participants).
  • In sub-group analysis by route of administration, shivering was reduced when magnesium was administered by intravenous infusion (RR 0.39, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.54; 2,124 participants, 35 trials); by epidural (RR 0.24, 95% CI 0.13 to 0.43; 880 participants, 12 trials) and intrathecally – injected directly into the cerebrospinal fluid (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.96; 1,120 participants, 16 trials).
  • Trial sequential analysis of studies at low risk of bias showed that there is sufficient data to conclude that intravenous magnesium reduces shivering in perioperative patients and this is unlikely to change with further studies. However, the analysis found there was insufficient data to be sure of the effects of epidural or intrathecal administration.
  • The study found no increase in adverse events including time to extubation, length of stay in a post-anaesthesia care unit, sedation, nausea, itching, low heart rate or low blood pressure. No serious adverse events were noted in any of the studies.

What does current guidance say on this issue?

The NICE 2008 guideline (updated in 2016) makes extensive recommendations about the monitoring of temperature for patients undergoing surgery, use of active warming, and other measures to reduce hypothermia. These include maintaining the ambient temperature of the operating theatre above 21 degrees when the patient is exposed, and ensuring the patient is covered as much as possible. The guideline does not address shivering specifically, nor the use of magnesium to prevent or treat it.

What are the implications?

While temperature measurement and warming are the most important interventions to reduce the risk of hypothermia, magnesium also seems to lower the risk of shivering. Unfortunately, the study was not able to look at the impact of magnesium alongside good temperature management. Nevertheless, it gives an additional management option for anaesthetists to consider, especially in the treatment of patients at high risk of shivering.

Citation and Funding

Kawakami H, Nakajima D, Mihara T et al. Effectiveness of magnesium in preventing shivering in surgical patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Anesth Analg. 2019; Feb 8. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000004024. [Epub ahead of print].

This study was funded by Yokohama City University in Japan.



NICE. Hypothermia: prevention and management in adults having surgery. CG65. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2008 (updated 2016).

Produced by the University of Southampton and Bazian on behalf of NIHR through the NIHR Dissemination Centre


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