Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 1 » Anesthesia - Basics Of Anesthesia, The Unique Challenge Of The Elderly Patient, Preoperative Assessment, Intraoperative Management - Conclusion

Anesthesia - Postoperative Care

nursing surgery pain patient control

Surgery, especially operations where the chest or abdomen is opened, creates a significant stress to the patient that continues for at least several days after the surgery. Besides problems such as pneumonia or a heart attack, older patients are particularly prone to becoming confused within a day or two of surgery. Although the confusion almost always goes away, the condition may leave the patient in a more debilitated state for a long time thereafter, and thus requiring longer hospitalization and perhaps even nursing home care on discharge from the hospital. Patients may also suffer a potentially permanent decline in mental abilities in association with surgery. Prevention of these phenomena is an important area of current research.

Anesthesiologists have been particularly involved with preventing complications by helping to provide better pain control after surgery. A popular method of pain control is the administration of morphine via a pump controlled by the patient. Within certain safety limits, a small dose of morphine is given each time the patient pushes a button. Narcotics such as morphine have side effects, however, such as itching, nausea, and sedation. In part to avoid these problems, non-narcotic drugs have been gaining popularity. For surgery on the arms or legs, the use of long-lasting local anesthetics can safely extend the anesthetic for up to a day after surgery. Through mechanisms not yet fully understood, this technique may reduce the amount of pain experienced even after the local anesthetic has worn off.

Another option for pain relief after surgery is provided by the epidural catheter described previously. By administering a low concentration of both a local anesthetic and a narcotic through the catheter, excellent pain control can be achieved without affecting the patient's brain, allowing the patient to breathe more deeply and cough more easily, thereby helping to prevent pneumonia. Good pain control may also diminish the risk of other problems, such as a heart attack. The exact role of pain control with epidural catheters is still unclear, but it appears that complications can be reduced in high-risk (often elderly) patients.

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