Patients' memories of painful medical treatments: real-time and retrospective evaluations of two minimally invasive procedures

Pain. 1996 Jul;66(1):3-8. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(96)02994-6.


Patients' memories of painful medical procedures may influence their decisions about future treatments, yet memories are imperfect and susceptible to bias. We recorded in real-time the intensity of pain experienced by patients undergoing colonoscopy (n = 154) and lithotripsy (n = 133). We subsequently examined patients' retrospective evaluations of the total pain of the procedure, and related these evaluations to the real-time recording obtained during the experience. We found that individuals varied substantially in the total amount of pain they remembered. Patients' judgments of total pain were strongly correlated with the peak intensity of pain (P < 0.005) and with the intensity of pain recorded during the last 3 min of the procedure (P < 0.005). Despite substantial variation in the duration of the experience, lengthy procedures were not remembered as particularly aversive. We suggest that patients' memories of painful medical procedures largely reflect the intensity of pain at the worst part and at the final part of the experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Colonoscopy / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lithotripsy / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors