Postoperative pain and self-management: women's experiences after cardiac surgery

J Adv Nurs. 2008 Sep;63(5):476-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04727.x.


Aim: This paper is a report of a study to describe women's experiences and their self-management of postoperative pain after elective cardiac surgery.

Background: Cardiac surgery involves several pain-sensitive areas, and untreated postoperative pain may lead to chronic pain. Early discharge requires increased patient participation in pain management. Women report more postoperative pain than men after cardiac surgery.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2004-2005 with 10 women 1-2 weeks after discharge from their first elective cardiac surgery. Qualitative content analysis was used to identify recurring themes. Pain diaries were used to record postoperative pain experiences 1-2 weeks before the interviews, providing more nuances to the experiences of pain and pain management.

Findings: Postoperative pain experiences varied from no pain to pain all the time. Worst pain intensity was recorded as moderate or more. Pain experiences depended on what women's expectations of pain after cardiac surgery. None wanted to complain about their painful experiences. The women had needed for more individualized information about self-management of pain, and had difficulties remembering the information they had received. Most did not want to use pain medication, or waited to do so until pain was unbearable.

Conclusion: Patients need more individualized and gender-specific information before early discharge from cardiac surgery to improve self-management. More specific predischarge education on self-management using analgesics regularly might prevent pain ratings rising to a severe level after discharge home.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy
  • Pain, Postoperative / psychology*
  • Postoperative Care*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thoracic Surgery*


  • Analgesics