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J Am Soc Nephrol. 2006 Nov;17(11):3198-203. Epub 2006 Sep 20.

Efficacy of the world health organization analgesic ladder to treat pain in end-stage renal disease.

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Section of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, West Virginia University School of Medicine, Morgantown, West Virginia 26506-9022, USA.


Pain is the one of the most common symptoms experienced by patients with ESRD; it impairs their quality of life and is undertreated. Most pain clinicians believe that the pain management approach of the World Health Organization (WHO) three-step analgesic ladder is applicable to the treatment of patients with ESRD, but this approach has not been validated for them. A cohort of 45 hemodialysis patients were assessed for type and severity of pain using the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire and then treated during a 4-wk period according to the WHO analgesic ladder. Mean age was 65 +/- 12.5 yr, and 22 (49%) patients had diabetic nephropathy as the cause of ESRD. Initial pain was rated severe by 34 (76%) patients. There was no difference in initial pain rating by gender, age, race, or type of pain. Forty percent of patients reported nociceptive pain, 31% neuropathic, and 29% both. Adequate analgesia was achieved in 43 (96%) of 45 patients. The mean pain score decreased from 7.8 +/- 1.2 to 1.6 +/- 1.3 (P < 0.001). Patients who were 65 yr and older had higher posttreatment scores than those who were younger than 65 (2.1 +/- 1.4 versus 0.94 +/- 0.93; P = 0.002) and more medication adverse effects. It is concluded that the use of the WHO three-step analgesic ladder leads to effective pain relief in hemodialysis patients. Older patients will need more careful pain management to achieve the same results as younger patients. Further studies are needed to confirm these results in a larger, more diverse dialysis population.

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