BACKGROUND: Chronic pain is common after thoracotomy. The primary goal of this study was to investigate the incidence of chronic post-thoracotomy pain. The secondary goal was to identify possible risk factors associated with the development of chronic post-operative pain.
METHODS: We contacted 255 patients who had undergone a classic postero-lateral thoracotomy at our institution in the period between January 2001 and December 2003. All patients received a letter requesting participation; a questionnaire was included with the letter. One week later patients were contacted by telephone to obtain the answers to the questionnaire.
RESULTS: We ultimately obtained results from 149 patients (58% of all thoracotomies, 84% of survivors). The overall incidence of chronic post-operative pain was 52% (32% mild, 16% moderate and 3% severe chronic post-operative pain). Patients with chronic post-operative pain reported acute post-operative pain more frequently than those without (85% vs. 62%, P = 0.01), had more severe acute post-operative pain (P = 0.0001), underwent more extensive surgical procedures (P = 0.01), had more constant acute pain (vs. fluctuating pain or pain in attacks) (P = 0.0004) and reported less absence of pain during the first post-operative week (P = 0.0001). There was no significant decrease in chronic pain with time after thoracotomy.
CONCLUSION: Our study confirms that chronic post-thoracotomy pain is a common problem. The results from our study suggest that chronic post-thoracotomy pain may be associated with more intensive and extensive nociceptive input due to thoracic surgery.