This was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews as an updated review in July 2016.
Gastrointestinal paralysis, nausea and vomiting and pain are major clinical problems following abdominal surgery. Anaesthetic and analgesic techniques that reduce pain and postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV), while preventing or reducing postoperative ileus, may reduce postoperative morbidity, duration of hospitalization and hospital costs. The review sought to compare the effects of postoperative epidural analgesia with local anaesthetics versus postoperative systemic or epidural opioids in terms of return of gastrointestinal transit, postoperative pain control, postoperative vomiting, incidence of anastomotic leak, length of hospital stay and costs after abdominal surgery.
The review concluded that an epidural containing a local anaesthetic, with or without the addition of an opioid, accelerates the return of gastrointestinal transit (high quality of evidence). An epidural containing a local anaesthetic with an opioid decreases pain after abdominal surgery (moderate quality of evidence). We did not find a difference in the incidence of vomiting or anastomotic leak (low quality of evidence). For open surgery, an epidural containing a local anaesthetic would reduce the length of hospital stay (very low quality of evidence).
Full details of the review can be found via this link