The use of gabapentin for post-operative and post-traumatic pain in thoracic surgery patients

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The pain following thoracic surgery and trauma is often refractory to conventional analgesic strategies. However, it shares key characteristics with neuropathic pain which gabapentin, an anticonvulsant, has been proven to effectively treat. To our knowledge, this is the first prospective study assessing the use of gabapentin in cardiothoracic surgery patients.


Gabapentin was prescribed to 60 consecutive out-patients with refractory pain persisting at four weeks or more after thoracic surgery or trauma. Follow-up of 45 patients (75%) was performed for a median of 21 months (range: 12-28), and clinical data collected prospectively. The mean age of these patients was 51.6 years (range 22-83). Of these 45 patients, 22 had received video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), 8 had received thoracotomy, 3 had received median sternotomy, and 12 were treated for blunt chest trauma.


The mean duration of pre-treatment refractory pain was 5.76 months (range 1-62). The mean duration of gabapentin use was 21.9 weeks (range 1-68). No deaths or major complications were encountered. Minor side effects—mostly somnolence and dizziness—occurred in 18 patients (40.0%), causing 3 patients (6.7%) to discontinue gabapentin. Overall, 33 patients (73.3%) noted reduction of pain. Chest wall paresthesia distinguishable from wound pain was relieved in 24 (75.0%) of 32 affected patients. Severe initial pain was significantly correlated with pain relief using gabapentin (p = 0.009). No other demographical or clinical variable correlated with benefit or side effects. Satisfaction with gabapentin use was expressed by 40 patients (88.9%). Side effects were not a source of dissatisfaction in any patient.


Gabapentin appears safe and well tolerated when used for persistent post-operative and post-traumatic pain in thoracic surgery patients, although minor side effects do occur. Gabapentin may relieve refractory chest wall pain in some of these patients, particularly those with more severe pain. Further studies are warranted to define the role of gabapentin in cardiothoracic surgical practice.

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