Acute Pain Assessment in Sedated Patients in the Postanesthesia Care Unit

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Acute postoperative pain remains inadequately assessed and managed. A valid instrument that assesses acute pain in sedated postanesthesia care unit (PACU) patients is needed.


Two behavioral pain assessment instruments, the NonVerbal Pain Scale Revised (NVPS-R) and Critical-care Pain Observation Tool (CPOT), were used to determine whether these instruments adequately assess acute pain in the PACU.


A crossover study design was used. The study was conducted in the Medical Services Administration at the Puerto Rico Medical Center. Upon PACU arrival, patient sedation levels were evaluated using the Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale. Acute pain was assessed using the CPOT (scored, 0 to 8) and the NVPS-R (scored, 0 to 10) at timepoints 0, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, and 120 minutes. Descriptive statistics and mixed model regression analysis were used to compare pain score assessment between instruments.


Clinically significant increases in vital signs and respiratory indicators using the NVPS-R were not seen in patients with significant pain at time 0, 15, and 120 minutes. The CPOT vocalization indicator was more frequent in patients with significant pain.


Findings suggest that NVPS-R and CPOT can assess acute pain in sedated PACU patients. In patients with significant pain, the CPOT vocalization indicator was more consistent than physiological and respiratory indicators in detecting acute pain. Thus, our data do not support the exclusive use of vital sign indicators to assess acute pain, suggesting the superiority of the CPOT for the assessment of acute pain in sedated PACU patients.

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