Remifentanil during cardiac surgery is associated with chronic thoracic pain 1 yr after sternotomy

Br J Anaesth. 2012 Oct;109(4):616-22. doi: 10.1093/bja/aes247. Epub 2012 Jul 24.


Background: Chronic thoracic pain after cardiac surgery is a serious condition affecting many patients. The aim of this study was to identify predictors for chronic thoracic pain after sternotomy in cardiac surgery patients by analysing patient and perioperative characteristics.

Methods: A follow-up study was performed in 120 patients who participated in a clinical trial on pain levels in the early postoperative period after cardiac surgery. The presence of chronic thoracic pain was evaluated by a questionnaire 1 yr after surgery. Patients with and without chronic thoracic pain were compared. Associations were studied using multivariable logistic regression analysis.

Results: Questionnaires of 90 patients were analysed. Chronic thoracic pain was reported by 18 patients (20%). In the multivariable regression model, remifentanil during cardiac surgery, age below 69 yr, and a body mass index above 28 kg m(-2) were independent predictors for chronic thoracic pain {odds ratios 8.9 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.6-49.0], 7.0 (95% CI 1.6-31.7), 9.1 (95% CI 2.1-39.1), respectively}. No differences were observed in patient and perioperative characteristics between patients receiving remifentanil (58%, n=52) compared with patients not receiving remifentanil (42%, n=38). The association between remifentanil and chronic thoracic pain appeared dose-dependent, both for total dose and for dose corrected for kilogram lean body mass and duration of surgery (P-value for trend: <0.01 and <0.005, respectively).

Conclusions: In this follow-up study in cardiac surgery patients, intraoperative remifentanil was predictive for chronic thoracic pain in a dose-dependent manner. Randomized studies designed to evaluate the influence of intraoperative remifentanil on chronic thoracic pain are needed to confirm these results.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anesthesia, Intravenous
  • Anesthesiology
  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / adverse effects*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Chronic Pain / etiology*
  • Critical Care
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / etiology*
  • Piperidines / adverse effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • ROC Curve
  • Remifentanil
  • Risk Factors
  • Sternotomy / adverse effects*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • Piperidines
  • Remifentanil