Management of pain for critically ill patients has been shown to be inadequately controlled and can have serious deleterious effects on a patient’s recovery. Continuous epidural analgesia can be used to control pain in critical care patients. This mode of analgesia administration provides pain relief without the delays inherent in the as-needed administration of analgesics. Fifteen critical care unit patients were part of a multidisciplinary, prospective, randomized, double-blind study of various epidural analgesic agents in 43 thoracic and 66 abdominal surgery patients. The purpose of the study was to identify the benefits and problems associated with continuous epidural analgesia administration and the implications for the nursing care of critically ill patients. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the analgesia was based on the following measures: 1) pain measured at regular intervals in the 72-hour period with a visual analog; 2) pain as measured after 72 hours with the word descriptor section of the McGill pain questionnaire; 3) amount of supplemental systemic narcotic analgesic needed; 4) recovery of ambulatory and respiratory function, including ability to perform coughing and deep-breathing exercises; 5) occurrence of adverse effects, and 6) the type and distribution of nursing care problems associated with continuous epidural infusions. The results of this study showed that the level of pain relief and recovery of postoperative function was superior to that provided by the more widely used as-needed systemic administration of narcotics. Although some nursing care problems were identified, continuous epidural analgesia can be used for pain relief in critical care patients, if the analgesia is administered by accurate reliable infusion systems and carefully monitored by nursing staff who are knowledgeable about the pharmacologic considerations of epidural analgesic agents and the management of patient care

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