Pain in the emergency department with one-week follow-up of pain resolution

Pain Res Manag. 2005 Summer;10(2):67-70. doi: 10.1155/2005/781916.


Objectives: To determine the intensity of pain in the emergency department (ED), the use of analgesics in relation to pain intensity, which patients are at risk for unresolved pain at one week post-discharge, and the postdischarge treatment of pain.

Methods: Patients (n=871) admitted to two urban, university-affiliated EDs who were experiencing any pain were recruited on different shifts over the summer months of 1997. Pain intensity was self-reported, and chart reviews of the assessment, immediate treatment and follow-up prescriptions were conducted. Patients (n=699) were contacted one week later, and reports of pain intensity, activity, resuming normal functions and patient attitudes toward pain were documented. Descriptive and regression analyses were performed on the results of patients with complete data (n=585).

Results: Mean pain intensity on admission was 6.0 (SD=2.5) on a zero to 10 visual analogue scale, and 5.0 (SD=2.9) at discharge (n=871). One-quarter (23%) of patients were given analgesics while in the ED; their mean pain intensity was 7.0 (95% CI 6.7 to 7.3) versus 5.7 (95% CI 5.5 to 5.9) for those who were not given analgesics (P<0.001). At one week, the mean intensity for worst pain in the past 24 h was 5.2 (SD=2.9) and the usual pain intensity was 3.7 (SD=2.6). Using a cutoff point of pain greater than three on the zero to 10 visual analogue scale as residual pain at one week, 35% (n=207) remained in pain, with musculoskeletal pain accounting for half (n=102) of those cases. Logistic regression showed that the following patients were most likely to have pain at one week: women; those with pain present longer than 48 h before ED visit; those with a high discharge pain rating; those who were taking analgesics; and those who had pain of musculoskeletal origin. Both the attitudes and beliefs about pain and the treatment of pain while in the ED or on discharge were unrelated to the presence of residual pain at one week. An examination of the same factors in relation to the return to normal activities found that they were similar, with the exception that admission and not discharge pain intensity was predictive of not returning to normal activities.

Conclusions: More than one-third of patients presenting to the ED with pain do not experience resolution of their pain. Women presenting with severe musculoskeletal pain of more than a week in duration are less likely to have resolution of their pain and to return to normal activities within a week of the ED visit.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors


  • Analgesics