Effects of Morphine and Tramadol on Somatic and Visceral Sensory Function and Gastrointestinal Motility after Abdominal Surgery

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Chronic nociceptive input induces sensitization and changes in regulatory reflexes in animal models. In humans, postoperative somatic and visceral sensitization and the secondary effects on reflex gut motility are unclear.


Somatic and visceral sensation and gastrointestinal motility were evaluated after abdominal hysterectomies in 50 patients who were randomized to receive double-blinded postoperative 48-h infusions of morphine or tramadol. Pain scores, rectal distension, skin electric sensation and pain tolerance thresholds, and gastrointestinal transit were assessed before and after operation, during and after analgesic infusions.


Pain intensity scores decreased similarly with morphine and tramadol infusions (total doses, 66.8 ± 20 mg and 732.4 ± 152 mg [mean ± SD], respectively). Skin pain tolerance thresholds in the incisional dermatome remained similar with morphine and tramadol throughout the study. During morphine infusions, pain tolerance thresholds on the shoulder increased (P< 0.05) and then decreased after discontinuation on day 4 (P< 0.02) compared with before operation. Rectal distension pain tolerance pressure thresholds increased after operation during morphine infusions (P< 0.05). Similar but nonsignificant trends occurred with tramadol. Orocecal and colonic transit times increased after operation with both morphine and tramadol (P< 0.005), but gastric emptying was prolonged only with morphine (P= 0.03). All motility and sensory parameters had returned to preoperative levels by 1 month after operation.


Pain control was equally effective with morphine and tramadol infusions. No somatic or visceral sensitization was evident during morphine and tramadol infusions, but pain tolerance thresholds as markers of antinociception were increased more during morphine infusions. The significant sensitization seen only after morphine discontinuation may be due to convergent visceral input. Gut motility was prolonged significantly by visceral surgery itself and also by morphine.

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