Comparison of effects and plasma concentrations of opioids between elderly and middle-aged patients after cardiac surgery

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In elderly patients, opioids may cause prominent postoperative sedation and respiratory depression. We evaluated the influence of age on the effects of opioids and plasma concentrations of fentanyl and oxycodone in cardiac surgery patients.


Thirty (≥75 years, gender M9/F21) and 20 (≤60 years, gender M20/F0) patients scheduled to undergo cardiac surgery. A standard anesthesia with fentanyl as an opioid was used. Fentanyl plasma concentrations were measured at the end of surgery and 2 h later. After tracheal extubation, when the pain intensity was at least moderate, blood samples for fentanyl and oxycodone plasma concentration measurements were taken. Thereafter, oxycodone hydrochloride 0.05 mg/kg i.v. was administered. After 15 and 45 min, pain intensity, sedation and oxycodone plasma concentration were determined. This test protocol was repeated twice.


The elderly had a higher plasma concentration of fentanyl at the end of surgery than younger patients (5.7±2.2 vs. 3.8±1.2 ng/ml, P=0.001). The plasma concentrations of oxycodone were comparable between the groups. The interval between the second and the third oxycodone dose was longer in the elderly patients (P=0.036). Pain intensity on the verbal rating scale was lower at the 45-min assessment point after all three oxycodone test doses (P=0.008) and sedation scores were significantly higher after the third dose in the elderly patients (P=0.035).


In elderly patients, the plasma concentration of fentanyl was higher but plasma levels of oxycodone were at a similar level compared with middle-aged patients. However, the elderly patients had less pain and were more sedated after doses of oxycodone.

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