Feasibility of the pupillary pain index as a guide for depth of analgesia during opioid-sparing anesthesia with continuous infusion of dexmedetomidine

J Anesth Analg Crit Care. 2023 Aug 14;3(1):27. doi: 10.1186/s44158-023-00112-8.


Background: The pupillary dilation reflex (PDR) is an objective indicator of analgesic levels in anesthetized patients. Through measurement of the PDR during increasing tetanic stimulation (10-60 mA), it is possible to obtain the pupillary pain index (PPI), a score that assesses the level of analgesia.

Objectives: The depth of analgesia during opioid-sparing anesthesia (OSA) with continuous infusion of dexmedetomidine in addition to general anesthesia was assessed.

Design: Observational prospective feasibility pilot study SETTING: This study was performed in the operating rooms of the Spedali Civili University-affiliated hospital of Brescia, Italy.

Patients: Forty-five adults who underwent elective open (5-cm incision) surgery under general anesthesia (78% inhalation anesthesia), from Feb. 18th to Aug. 1st, 2019, were enrolled. Exclusion criteria were as follows: implanted pacemaker or ICD, ophthalmological comorbidities, chronic opioid use, peripheral neuropathy, other adjuvant drugs, epidural analgesia, or locoregional block.

Main outcome measures: The first aim was to verify the feasibility of applying a study protocol to evaluate the depth of analgesia during intraoperative dexmedetomidine administration using an instrumental pupillary evaluation. The secondary outcome was to evaluate appropriate analgesia, drug dosage, anesthesia depth, heart rate, blood pressure, transient side effects, postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV), and pain numerical rating scale (NRS) score.

Results: Thirty out of 50 patients (60%) treated with dexmedetomidine during the study period were included in the DEX group (8 males, age 42 ± 13 years, BMI 45 ± 8), and 15 other patients were included in the N-DEX group (8 males, age 62 ± 13 years, BMI 26 ± 6). Patients who underwent bariatric, abdominal, or plastic surgery were enrolled. At least 3 pupillary evaluations were taken for each patient. PPI ≤ 3 was observed in 97% of patients in the DEX group and 53% in the N-DEX group. Additionally, the DEX group received less than half the remifentanil dose than the N-DEX group (0.13 ± 0.07 vs 0.3 ± 0.11 mcg kg-1 min-1). The average dose of dexmedetomidine administered was 0.17 ± 0.08 mcg kg-1 h-1.

Conclusion: The feasibility of applying the protocol was verified. An OSA strategy involving dexmedetomidine may be associated with improved analgesic stability: a randomized controlled trial is necessary to verify this hypothesis.

Trial registration: Trial.gov registration number: NCT05785273.

Keywords: Analgesia; Dexmedetomidine; Nociception; Pupil; Pupillary reflex.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT05785273