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Pharmacotherapy. 2012 Sep;32(9 Suppl):6S-11S. doi: 10.1002/j.1875-9114.2012.01177.x.

Challenges in the management of acute postsurgical pain.

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Pharmacotherapy Outcomes Research Center, University of Utah College of Pharmacy, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA.


The majority of patients who undergo surgery will require drug therapy for the management of acute postsurgical pain. Effective control of acute postsurgical pain is essential for the patient not only in the short term but also in the long term to prevent the development of chronic pain, which can occur if early acute pain is prolonged. Currently, opioid analgesics are widely used for the management of acute postsurgical pain. Although opioids provide effective postsurgical pain relief, their use is associated with a number of risks, including the development of opioid-related adverse drug events (ORADEs). This review investigates the prevalence of opioid use in the postsurgical setting, the incidence of ORADEs, and the impact of these ORADEs on patient outcomes, length of stay, and costs after common surgeries. According to a national analysis of ORADE incidence, almost 20% of patients treated with opioids experienced an ORADE, with the most common being gastrointestinal effects, central nervous system effects, pruritus, or urinary retention. Studies show that the risk of developing an ORADE is higher in patients receiving higher doses of opioids and in patients undergoing orthopedic or gynecologic surgery compared with patients undergoing general surgery. Elderly patients and those with comorbidities (e.g., obesity, sleep apnea, respiratory disease, urinary disorders) may be particularly vulnerable to ORADE development. Both hospital costs and length of stay are increased in patients with an ORADE versus those without an ORADE. Strategies to reduce the use of opioids after surgery are likely to result in positive outcomes by reducing the incidence of ORADEs and, as a result, reducing treatment costs associated with surgery and improving patient care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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