Managing Pain Expectations Key to Enhanced Recovery

Heidi Splete

July 01, 2020

Planning for reduced use of opioids in pain management involves identifying appropriate patients and managing their expectations, according to Timothy E. Miller, MB, ChB, FRCA, of Duke University, Durham, N.C., who is president of the American Society for Enhanced Recovery.

Multimodal analgesia plans can be a beneficial part of enhanced recovery and may reduce or eliminate the need for opioids in some patients, he said in a presentation at the virtual Annual Minimally Invasive Surgery Symposium sponsored by Global Academy for Medical Education.

Dr. Miller shared a treatment algorithm for achieving optimal analgesia in patients after colorectal surgery that combines intravenous or oral analgesia with local anesthetics and additional nonopioid options. The algorithm involves choosing NSAIDs, acetaminophen, or gabapentin for IV/oral use. In addition, options for local anesthetic include with a choice of single-shot transversus abdominis plane (TAP) block.

Careful patient selection is key to an opioid-free or opioid reduced anesthetic strategy, Dr. Miller said. The appropriate patients have "no chronic opioids, no anxiety, and the desire to avoid opioid side effects," he said.

Opioid-free or opioid-reduced strategies include realigning patient expectations to prepare for pain at a level of 2-4 on a scale of 10 as "expected and reasonable," he said. Patients given no opioids or reduced opioids may report cramping after laparoscopic surgery, as well as shoulder pain that is referred from the CO2 bubble under the diaphragm, he said. However, opioids don't treat the shoulder pain well, and "walking or changing position usually relieves this pain," and it usually resolves within 24 hours, Dr. Miller noted. "Just letting the patient know what is expected in terms of pain relief in their recovery is hugely important," he said.

The optimal analgesia after surgery is a plan that combines optimized patient comfort with the fastest functional recovery and the fewest side effects, he emphasized.

Optimized patient comfort includes optimal pain ratings at rest and with movement, a decreasing impact of pain on emotion, function, and sleep disruption, and an improvement in the patient experience, he said. The fastest functional recovery is defined as a return to drinking liquids, eating solid foods, performing activities of daily living, and maintaining normal bladder, bowel, and cognitive function. Side effects to be considered in analgesia included nausea, vomiting, sedation, ileus, itching, dizziness, and delirium, he said.

In an unpublished study, Dr. Miller and colleagues eliminated opioids intraoperatively in a series of 56 cases of laparoscopic cholecystectomy and found significantly less opioids needed in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU). In addition, opioid-free patients had significantly shorter length of stay in the PACU, he said. "We are writing this up for publication and looking into doing larger studies," Dr. Miller said.

Questions include whether the opioid-free technique translates more broadly, he said.

In addition, it is important to continue to collect data and study methods to treat pain and reduce opioid use perioperatively, Dr. Miller said. Some ongoing concerns include data surrounding the use of gabapentin and possible association with respiratory depression, he noted. Several meta-analyses have suggested that "gabapentinoids (gabapentin, pregabalin) when given as a single dose preoperatively are associated with a decrease in postoperative pain and opioid consumption at 24 hours," said Dr. Miller. "When gabapentinoids are included in multimodal analgesic regimens, intraoperative opioids must be reduced, and increased vigilance for respiratory depression may be warranted, especially in elderly patients," he said.

Overall, opioid-free anesthesia is both feasible and appropriate in certain patient populations, Dr. Miller concluded. "Implement your pathway and measure your outcomes with timely feedback so you can revise your protocol based on data," he emphasized.

Global Academy for Medical Education and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.

Dr. Miller disclosed relationships with Edwards Lifesciences, and serving as a board member for the Perioperative Quality Initiative and as a founding member of the Morpheus Consortium.

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