Spinal anesthesia linked to more pain, prescription analgesic use after hip surgery compared to GA

A randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing spinal versus general anesthesia for hip surgery found that spinal anesthesia was associated with worse pain immediately after surgery and higher rates of pain reliever prescriptions at 60 days. However, differences in pain, satisfaction, or mental status between the two interventions seemed to diminish at 60, 180, or 365 days after surgery. The findings are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

More than 250,000 older adults experience a hip fracture every year and nearly all are repaired through surgery. Patient recovery of ambulation and survival at 60 days, delirium, and hospital length of stay are similar whether patients have spinal or general anesthesia during surgery. Not much is known about which type of anesthesia demonstrates better outcomes, though previous studies suggest that patients may have less pain in the first few hours after hip fracture surgery with spinal anesthesia.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine conducted a preplanned secondary analysis of a RCT comparing spinal versus general anesthesia in 1,600 patients aged 50 years or older who were having hip fracture surgery. Trial participants were randomly assigned to general or spinal anesthesia and the researchers collected data on pain on days 1 to 3 after surgery.

Pain and use of prescription pain relievers, mental status, and patient satisfaction were assessed at 60, 180, and 365 days after surgery. They authors found that patients who received spinal anesthesia reported worse pain in the 24 hours after surgery but reported similar pain at all other time points.

The authors also found that 25 percent of patients in the spinal anesthesia group were using prescription pain relievers at 60 days compared to 18.8 percent of patients in the general anesthesia group. However, the authors note that they did not find differences in pain, satisfaction, or mental status at 60, 180, or 365 days.

In an accompanying editorial, authors from Harvard Medical School argue that this study challenges a dominant narrative about the risks and outcomes of general anesthesia in older adults. The authors also add that this study highlights that surgical repair of hip fractures in older adults carries the risk for severe postoperative pain, regardless of whether the surgery is done with regional or general anesthesia. They suggest that future research investigate the differences in reported pain as presented in this study and the RAGA (Regional Anesthesia vs General Anesthesia) trial but note that participants in the RAGA trial may have experienced more extensive postoperative care.

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