Pain is the most common presenting symptom of disease. It is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience, associated with actual or potential tissue damage. There are sound medical and legal reasons to treat pain aggressively in hospitalized patients. The Joint Commission, which certifies health care institutions in the United States, mandates that all patients have the right to adequate pain assessment and management (Table 48-1).
TABLE 48-1Joint Commission Pain Assessment and Management Standards for Hospitals |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 48-1 Joint Commission Pain Assessment and Management Standards for Hospitals
The hospital respects the patient’s right to pain management.
The hospital educates all licensed independent practitioners on assessing and managing pain.
The hospital assesses and manages the patient’s pain. The hospital conducts a comprehensive pain assessment that is consistent with its scope of care, treatment, and services and the patient’s condition.
The hospital uses methods to assess pain that are consistent with the patient’s age, condition, and ability to understand.
The hospital assesses and reassesses its patients. The hospital defines, in writing, criteria that identify when additional, specialized, or more in-depth assessments are performed for pain.
Based on the patient’s condition and assessed needs, the education and training provided to the patient by the hospital include any of the following: discussion of pain, the risk for pain, the importance of effective pain management, the pain assessment process, and methods for pain management.
In the inpatient setting, patients may be more concerned about pain relief than the outcome of their underlying illness. Poor pain control has adverse physiologic consequences that lead to worse outcomes (Table 48-2).
TABLE 48-2Physiologic Consequences of Uncontrolled Pain |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) TABLE 48-2 Physiologic Consequences of Uncontrolled Pain
|Cardiovascular ||Tachycardia, hypertension, increased cardiac workload |
|Pulmonary ||Hypoxia, hypercarbia, atelectasis, decreased cough |
|Gastrointestinal ||Decreased gastric emptying, nausea/vomiting, ileus |
|Renal ||Urinary retention |
|Endocrine ||Increased adrenergic activity, catabolic state, sodium/water retention |
|Immunologic ||Impairment, slowed wound healing |
|Musculoskeletal ||Splinting, contractures, decreased mobility (deep vein thrombosis) |
|Hematological ||Increased coagulability |
|Neurological ||Anxiety, fear, anger, fatigue, delirium |
In postoperative patients, better analgesia improves cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine, immunologic, gastrointestinal, and hematologic status. Following many common surgeries, acute pain that is not satisfactorily treated may become persistent.
PATHOPHYSIOLOGY: NOCICEPTIVE AND ANTI-NOCICEPTIVE PATHWAYS
Nociception, the perception of noxious stimuli, is a preconscious neural activity that is normally necessary, but not sufficient, for pain. It is more accurate to refer to nociceptive pathways, rather than pain pathways. The peripheral nerve fibers acting as nociceptors are lightly myelinated A-delta and unmyelinated C fibers, which are triggered or sensitized (peripheral sensitization) by several substances, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP), prostanoids, bradykinin, serotonin, histamine, and hydrogen ions. Heat, pressure, or nerve damage also results in activation.