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Pain. 2012 Apr;153(4):759-64. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.11.002. Epub 2012 Feb 4.

Effects of acute postoperative pain on catecholamine plasma levels, hemodynamic parameters, and cardiac autonomic control.

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Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine, Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, Australia.


Postoperative pain is often stated to be a significant contributor to a sympathetic stress response after surgery. However, hardly any evidence has been published to support this assumption. Hence it was the aim of this trial to investigate the relationship between postoperative pain and hemodynamic, endocrine, and autonomic parameters. A total of 85 postoperative patients in the recovery room were repeatedly asked to rate their pain on a numeric rating scale (NRS). Concurrently, the parameters of heart rate variability (HRV) were analysed, and mean arterial pressure (MAP), heart rate (HR) and respiration rate (RR) were recorded. Pain was categorized into no, mild, moderate, and severe. Blood samples were taken for epinephrine (EPI) and norepinephrine (NE) plasma level assessment at the time of recovery room admission and discharge, and each time pain was found decreased in categorized severity. A total of 239 pain readings were obtained. None of the investigated parameters correlated with NRS scores. NE was higher at NRS 5 to 10 vs. NRS 0 to 4 (mean [SEM]: 1009 [73] pg/mL vs. 872 [65] pg/mL; P<0.01). This was also found for MAP, but not for EPI or the parameters of HRV, HR, and RR. In contrast to common belief, the severity of postoperative pain does not appear to be associated with the degree of sympathetic stress response after surgery, and other factors such as surgical trauma may be more important. Importantly, the absence of signs of sympathetic stimulation cannot be seen as a guarantee for the absence of significant pain.

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