Postoperative delirium: the importance of pain and pain management

Anesth Analg. 2006 Apr;102(4):1267-73. doi: 10.1213/


Postoperative delirium is common in geriatric patients. Few studies have examined events in the postoperative period that may contribute to the occurrence of postoperative delirium. We hypothesized that postoperative delirium is related to postoperative pain and/or pain management strategy. Patients aged > or =65 years who were scheduled for major noncardiac surgery were studied. A structured interview was conducted preoperatively and for the first 3 postoperative days to determine the presence of delirium using the Confusion Assessment Method. The method of postoperative pain management, as well as pre- and postoperative medications for the first 3 days, was collected. Pre- and postoperative pain at rest and with movement was recorded using the Visual Analog Scale. Three hundred thirty-three patients, with a mean age of 74 +/- 6 years, were studied. After surgery, 46% of patients developed postoperative delirium. By multivariate logistic regression, age (odds ratio [OR], 2.5; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5 to 4.2), moderate (OR, 2.2; 95% CI 1.2 to 4.0) and severe (OR, 3.7; 95% CI 1.5 to 9.0) preoperative resting pain, and increase in level of pain from baseline to postoperative day one (OR, 1.1; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.2) were independently associated with a greater risk for the development of postoperative delirium. In contrast, patients who used oral opioid analgesics as their sole means of postoperative pain control were at decreased risk of developing delirium in comparison with those who used opioid analgesics via IV patient-controlled analgesia technique (OR, 0.4; 95% CI 0.2 to 0.7). These results validate our hypothesis that pain and pain management strategies are important factors related to the development of postoperative delirium in elderly patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Delirium / epidemiology
  • Delirium / psychology*
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Pain Measurement / standards
  • Pain, Postoperative / epidemiology
  • Pain, Postoperative / psychology*
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*
  • Postoperative Complications / chemically induced
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / psychology


  • Analgesics