Background Pain during chest tube removal can be moderately to severely intense and distressful to patients. Little evidence-based research has guided clinicians in attempts to alleviate such pain.

Objective To test pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions to alleviate pain during chest tube removal in cardiac surgery patients.

Methods Four interventions were tested in 74 patients in a randomized, double-blind study: (1) 4 mg intravenous morphine and procedural information; (2) 30 mg intravenous ketorolac and procedural information; (3) 4 mg intravenous morphine plus procedural and sensory information; and (4) 30 mg intravenous ketorolac plus procedural and sensory information. Analgesics were administered to correspond to peak effect, and scripted information was provided. Pain intensity and pain distress were measured before analgesic administration, immediately after chest tube removal, and 20 minutes later. Pain quality was measured immediately after chest tube removal. Level of sedation was measured before and 20 minutes after chest tube removal. Repeated-measures analyses of variance were used to test differences among groups over time.

Results Pain intensity, pain distress, and sedation levels did not differ significantly among groups. However, procedural pain intensity (mean 3.26, SD 3.00) and pain distress (mean 2.98, SD 3.18) scores for all were low. Patients remained alert, regardless of which analgesic was administered.

Conclusions If used correctly, either an opioid (morphine) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (ketorolac) can substantially reduce pain during chest tube removal without causing adverse sedative effects. Thus, clinicians may choose among several safe and effective analgesic interventions during chest tube removal.

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