Risk factors for chronic thoracic pain after cardiac surgery via sternotomy

Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2011 Dec;40(6):1309-13. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcts.2011.03.039. Epub 2011 May 10.


Objective: This study examines the influence of patient demographics and peri- and postoperative (<7 days) characteristics on the incidence of chronic thoracic pain 1 year after cardiac surgery. The impact of chronic thoracic pain on daily life is also documented.

Methods: A prospective cohort study of 146 patients admitted to the intensive care unit after cardiac surgery via sternotomy was carried out. Pain scores (numeric rating scale 0-10) were recorded during the first 7 postoperative days. One year later, a questionnaire was used to evaluate the incidence in the 2 preceding weeks of chronic thoracic pain (numeric rating scale >0) associated with the primary surgery.

Results: One year after surgery, 42 (35%) of the 120 responding patients reported chronic thoracic pain. Multivariate regression analysis of patient characteristics revealed that non-elective surgery, re-sternotomy, severe pain (numeric rating scale ≥ 4) on the third postoperative day, and female gender were all independent predictors of chronic thoracic pain. In addition, the chronic sufferers reported more sleep disturbances and more frequent use of analgesics than their cohorts.

Conclusions: We have identified a number of factors correlated with persistent thoracic pain following cardiac surgery with sternotomy. Awareness of these predictors may be useful for further research concerning both the prevention and treatment of chronic thoracic pain, thereby potentially ameliorating the postoperative quality of life of a significant proportion of patients. Meanwhile, chronic thoracic pain should be discussed preoperatively with patients at risk so that they are truly informed about possible consequences of the surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / methods
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sternotomy / adverse effects*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae