Prospective evaluation of pain and analgesic use following major elective intracranial surgery

Allan Gottschalk, Lauren C. Berkow, Robert D. Stevens, Marek Mirski, Richard E. Thompson, Elizabeth D. White, Jon D. Weingart, Donlin M. Long, Myron Yaster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Object. Opioid administration after major intracranial surgery is often limited by a presumed lack of need and a concern that opioids will adversely affect the postoperative neurological examination. The authors conducted a prospective study to evaluate the incidence, severity, and treatment of postoperative pain in patients who underwent major intracranial surgery. Methods. One hundred eighty-seven patients (77 men and 110 women, mean age 52 ± 15 years, mean weight 78.1 ± 19.9 kg) underwent either supratentorial (129 patients) or infratentorial (58 patients) procedures. Sixty-nine percent of the patients reported experiencing moderate to severe pain (≥ 4 on a 0-10 scale) during the 1st postoperative day. Pain scores greater than or equal to 4 persisted in 48% on the 2nd postoperative day. Approximately 80% of patients were treated with acetaminophen on the 1st postoperative day, whereas opioids (primarily intravenous fentanyl) were administered to 58%. Compared with patients who underwent supratentorial procedures, those who underwent infratentorial procedures reported more severe pain at rest (mean score 4.9 ± 2.2 compared with 3.8 ± 2.6; p = 0.015) and with movement (mean score 6.3 ± 2.6 compared with 4.5 ± 2.7; p < 0.001) on the 1st postoperative day. On both the 1st and 2nd postoperative days, patients who underwent infratentorial procedures received greater quantities of opioid (p ≤ 0.019) and nonopioid (p ≤ 0.013) analgesics than those who underwent supratentorial procedures. Patients' dissatisfaction with analgesic therapy was significantly associated with elevated pain levels on the first 2 postoperative days (p < 0.001). Conclusions. In contrast to prevailing assumptions, the study findings reveal that most patients undergoing elective major intracranial surgery will experience moderate to severe pain for the first 2 days after surgery and that this pain is often inadequately treated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-216
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007


  • Analgesia
  • Craniotomy
  • Opiate
  • Pain
  • Pain control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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