Advantages of postoperative pain relief

Comfort
Having pain is not pleasant. Anybody who has undergone a major operation can testify to the value of good pain relief. Simply put, patients who are given painkillers have less pain and feel better!

Better mobility, better recovery, shorter stay in hospital
Being pain free not only means not having pain when you lie completely still in your bed, but also not having pain when you move, cough, or during physiotherapy sessions! Many studies have proven that these patients have a quicker recovery, shorter hospital stays, and function better even several months after the surgery (e.g. after major orthopaedic surgery).

Better breathing
Surgery on the abdomen and the chest wall can be extremely painful post-operatively, especially when breathing or coughing. Poor breathing can lead to insufficient oxygen intake, and if secretions cannot be coughed up, especially in smokers, it can result in pneumonia. This can be disastrous for e.g. obese, elderly or chronically ill patients.

Less strain on the heart
Pain can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which puts strain on the heart. This usually will not matter in the case of a healthy heart, but in the less healthy it can lead to a heart attack!

Less risk for formation of blood clots in the vessels and the lungs
Major surgery can cause the body to form blood clots in the veins (deep venous thrombosis or DVT), which can migrate to the lungs and cause death (pulmonary embolism). Efficient regional anaesthesia, like an epidural, decreases this risk by about 20%. Together with other preventative measures like elastic stockings and certain drugs, it drastically reduces the risk for this possible fatal complication.

Earlier feeding
After abdominal surgery, the patient traditionally was not allowed to eat for a number of days. This has changed thanks to epidural pain relief post-operatively: the epidural itself makes the bowel restart its normal activity earlier, and the good pain relief it provides precludes the use of morphine or other opioids. Opioids have a paralysing effect on the bowel, and can make you feel nauseous.

Epidural analgesia makes it possible to eat even on the day after surgery. This does not mean you are going to have steak and chips and cheesecake, of course. The surgeon will prescribe a special nutritional drink specifically designed for this purpose, which not only feeds you, but also heals the gut, which also needs nutrition.

Decrease in general stress response
Surgery subjects your body to a lot of stress. This is not your normal daily psychological stress caused by traffic jams and an irritating boss. What is meant here is physiological stress: pain, cooling during surgery, blood loss etc. If all these factors are treated appropriately, the challenge to the body will be much less severe, allowing for a speedier and less complicated recovery. For example, the stress of pain increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and in a person with heart disease, this can lead to a heart attack.

Decreased incidence in chronic pain
Poorly treated pain after surgery can sometimes become chronic (lasting several months or years). This is true for chest surgery, but might also be valid for other types of surgery.
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