From the Journals

Severe postoperative pain following thoracotomy predicts persistent pain months later


Key clinical point: Patients who experience acute pain within 72 hours of undergoing thoracotomy are more likely to still be in pain 6 months after the procedure.

Major finding: 133 of 306 patients were in severe pain 72 hours after thoracotomy; of these, 109 (82%) still had pain 6 months later.

Data source: Retrospective, single-center study of 504 thoracotomy patients between May 2010 and April 2012.

Disclosures: Authors reported no financial disclosures nor funding source.



Patients who suffer from severe pain in the days immediately following an open thoracotomy are significantly more likely to still be experiencing pain from the procedure 6 months later, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia.

“A recognized cause of persistent postsurgical pain is poorly controlled immediate postoperative pain,” wrote the authors, led by Gopinath Niraj, MD, of the University Hospitals of Leicester (England) NHS Trust. “Open thoracotomy can induce significant pain during the immediate postoperative period. Patients undergoing thoracotomy also have one of the greatest incidences of chronic postoperative pain and disability among all the surgical procedures.”

Dr. Niraj and his coinvestigators conducted an audit on 504 patients who underwent open thoracotomy at a single center between May 2010 and April 2012. The audit consisted of a questionnaire composed of 15 questions, which asked yes/no questions about the existence of and location of postoperative pain, and numerical questions regarding the severity of pain. Scores of 7 or higher on a 10-point scale indicated “severe pain,” according to the investigators (J Clin Anesth. 2017;36:174-7). Subjects were evaluated at 72 hours and at 6 months after the operation.

Of the 504 patients, there were 364 survivors, of which 306 received questionnaires. Of those 306, 133 (43%) reported at least five incidents of severe pain within 72 hours of undergoing the operation. Within this group, 109 (82%) reported feeling some amount of persistent pain 6 months later. Chronic post-thoracotomy pain was considered severe in 10% of those subjects, while 24% reported it as moderate and 48% said it was mild.

A total of 289 of the 306 subjects (95%) received an epidural analgesic in the 72 hours after thoracotomy. In terms of satisfaction with pain management, patients were overall positive; 36.3% rated it “excellent,” 43.8% called it “good,” while only 15.8% said it was “fair” and 3.8% said it was “poor.”

“Our audit has some limitations,” the authors noted. “The retrospective project relied on patient self-report and recall.”

Dr. Niraj and his coauthors did not report any financial conflicts. No funding sources for this study were disclosed.

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