Preoperative anxiety in adults - a cross-sectional study on specific fears and risk factors

BMC Psychiatry. 2020 Mar 30;20(1):140. doi: 10.1186/s12888-020-02552-w.


Background: Preoperative anxiety comprising anesthesia and surgery related anxiety is common and perceived by many patients as the worst aspect of the surgical episode. The aim of this study was to identify independent predictors of these three anxieties dimensions and to quantify the relevance of specific fears particularly associated with anesthesia.

Methods: This study was part of a cross-sectional survey in patients scheduled to undergo elective surgery. Anxiety levels were measured with the Amsterdam Preoperative Anxiety and Information Scale (APAIS). Modified numeric rating scales (mNRS, range 0-10) were used to assess the severity of eight selected specific fears which were predominantly analyzed descriptively. Multivariate stepwise linear regression was applied to determine independent predictors of all three anxiety dimensions (APAIS anxiety subscales).

Results: 3087 of the 3200 enrolled patients were analyzed. Mean (SD) total preoperative anxiety (APAIS-A-T, range 4-20) was 9.9 (3.6). High anxiety (APAIS-A-T > 10) was reported by 40.5% of subjects. Mean (SD) levels of concern regarding the eight studied specific fears ranged from 3.9 (3.08) concerning "Anesthesiologist error" to 2.4 (2.29) concerning "Fatigue and drowsiness" with an average of 3.2 (2.84) concerning all specific fears. Ranking of all specific fears according to mean mNRS scores was almost identical in patients with high versus those with low anxiety. Among nine independent predictors of anxiety, only 3 variables (female gender, negative and positive anesthetic experience) independently predicted all three APAIS anxiety subscales. Other variables had a selective impact on one or two APAIS anxiety subscales only. Female gender had the strongest impact on all three APAIS anxiety subscales. Adjusted r2 values of the three models were all below 13%.

Conclusions: The high variability of importance assigned to all specific fears suggests an individualized approach is advisable when support of anxious patients is intended. Considering independent predictors of anxiety to estimate each patient's anxiety level is of limited use given the very low predictive capacity of all three models. The clinical benefit of dividing patients into those with high and low anxiety is questionable.

Trial registration: German Registry of Clinical Trials (DRKS00016725), retrospectively registered.

Keywords: Anesthesia related anxiety; Cross-sectional survey; Independent predictors; Multivariate regression; Preoperative anxiety; Specific concerns; Surgery related anxiety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anesthesia / psychology*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / psychology*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Preoperative Period
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors