Pain after cardiac surgery: a prospective cohort study of 1-year incidence and intensity

Anesthesiology. 2006 Oct;105(4):794-800. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200610000-00026.


Background: Persistent chest pain may originate from cardiac surgery. Conflicting results have been reported on the incidence of persistent poststernotomy pain with considerable discrepancies between the retrospective reports and the one prospective study conducted to assess this pain. Therefore, the authors conducted a follow-up survey for the first 12 months after cardiac surgery in 213 patients who had a sternotomy.

Methods: The authors performed a prospective inquiry of acute and chronic poststernotomy pain both before and after cardiac surgery. Two hundred thirteen coronary artery bypass patients received a questionnaire preoperatively, 4 days postoperatively, and 1, 3, 6, and 12 months postoperatively. All patients were asked about their expectations, their preferences, and the location and intensity of postoperative pain.

Results: The return rates for the postal questionnaires were 203 (95%) and 186 (87%) after 1 and 12 months, respectively. Patients experienced more pain postoperatively at rest than they had expected to preoperatively. At rest, the worst actual postoperative pain was 6 (0-10), and the worst expected pain as assessed preoperatively was 5 (0-10) (P = 0.013). The worst reported postoperative pain was severe (numeric rating scale score 7-10) in 49% at rest, in 78% during coughing, and in 62% of patients on movement. One year after the operation, 26 patients (14%) reported mild chronic poststernotomy pain at rest, 1 patient (1%) had moderate pain, and 3 patients (2%) had severe pain. Upon movement, persistent pain was even more common: 45 patients (24%) had mild, 5 patients (3%) had moderate, and 7 patients (4%) had severe pain. Patients who experienced moderate to severe acute postoperative pain also reported any chronic poststernotomy pain (numeric rating scale score 1-10) more frequently.

Conclusions: Although common, the incidence of persistent pain after sternotomy was lower than previously reported. Also, reassuringly, 1 year after surgery this pain was mostly mild in nature both at rest and on movement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Pain, Postoperative / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires