Conference Coverage

Opioids don’t treat pain better than ibuprofen after venous ablation surgery



– Compared with ibuprofen, opioid pain medication offered little benefit for pain control after venous ablation surgery, in the experience of one surgical center.

Bottles of opioids/pills BackyardProduction/Thinkstock

Sharing study results at a poster session at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Vascular Surgery Society, Jana Sacco, MD, and her colleagues found that patients who received opioid prescriptions after venous ablations did not have significantly different postsurgical pain than did those who received ibuprofen alone.

The study, conducted against the national backdrop of greater scrutiny of postsurgical opioid prescribing, was the first to look at post–venous ablation pain management strategies, said Dr. Sacco, a resident physician at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. Venous ablation surgery can improve quality of life for patients with varicose veins, but best practices for managing postprocedure discomfort had not been clear; some patients receive opioid pain medications, while others are directed to use ibuprofen as needed for pain control.

The retrospective, single-center study assessed pre- and postoperative pain for patients undergoing venous ablation procedures over a 2-year period, said Dr. Sacco.

Patients who were prescribed opioids were compared with patients who were simply asked to take ibuprofen for pain control.

Comparing preoperative to postoperative pain scores, Dr. Sacco and her colleagues defined a change of 2-3 points on a 0-10 Likert scale as “good” improvement; a change of 1 point was defined as “mild” improvement, and no change or worsening was defined as no improvement.

Of the 268 patients for whom postoperative follow-up data were available, 142 received opioid prescriptions, while 126 did not.

Across the entire group of patients studied, those who had moderate to severe preoperative pain had significant improvement in pain after their procedures.

Whether patients received opioid pain medication after their venous ablation was not correlated with the degree of improvement in postprocedure pain scores. Of those who saw no improvement, 30 patients (45%) received opioids and 36 (55%) did not. Of the 89 patients who saw mild postprocedure improvement in pain, 35 (40%) were not discharged on opioids, and of 65 patients who had good improvement in postprocedure pain, 44% were not discharged on opioids (P = .7 for difference across groups).

When Dr. Sacco and her fellow researchers examined such patient characteristics as sex, race, body mass index, smoking status, and CEAP venous severity classification, they did not see any significant differences in pain scores. Similarly, neither the type of procedure (radiofrequency or laser ablation) nor information on whether compression treatment was used was associated with a difference in pain scores.

Dr. Sacco and her coauthors noted that the study was limited by its retrospective nature and the fact that patients were all drawn from a single institution. Additionally, the investigators were only able to ascertain whether opioids had been prescribed, not whether – or how much – medication was actually taken by patients.

“Most patients report an improvement in symptoms after undergoing vein ablation procedures,” reported Dr. Sacco and her colleagues, and most patients also do well with nonopioid pain control regimens. “Overprescribing opioids exposes patients to the risk of narcotic overdose and chronic opioid use and should be used with caution for patients undergoing vein ablation surgery,” they wrote.

Dr. Sacco reported no outside sources of funding and no conflicts of interest.

Next Article: