The Perioperative Management of Pain from Intracranial Surgery

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Analgesic therapy following intracranial procedures remains a source of concern and controversy. Although opioids are the mainstay of the “balanced” general anesthetic techniques frequently used during intracranial procedures, neurosurgeons and others have been reluctant to administer opioid analgesics to patients following such procedures. This practice is supported by the concern that the sedation and miosis associated with opioid administration could mask the early signs of intracranial catastrophe, or even exacerbate it through decreased ventilatory drive, elevated arterial carbon dioxide levels, and increased cerebral blood flow. This reluctance to use opioids following intracranial surgery is enabled by decades of training and anecdote emphasizing that pain is minimal following these procedures. However, recent data suggests otherwise, and raises the question of how to provide safe and effective analgesia for these patients. Here, this data is reviewed along with the relevant pain pathways, analgesic drugs and techniques, and the available data on their use following intracranial surgery. Although pain following intracranial surgery appears to be more intense than initially believed, it is readily treated safely and effectively with techniques that have proven useful following other types of surgery, including patient-controlled administration of opioids. The use of multimodal analgesic therapy is emphasized not only for its effectiveness, but to reduce dosages and, therefore, side effects, primarily of the opioids, that could be of legitimate concern to physicians and affect the comfort of their patients.

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