BACKGROUND: Little research was found to indicate that pain is managed well in hospitalized patients and few studies were found regarding pain management for critical care patients. OBJECTIVE: To determine the extent to which nurses manage pain effectively without side effects related to narcotic analgesics in an intensive care and a surgical unit. METHODS: The sample consisted of 44 patients, 20 from an intensive care unit and 24 from a surgical unit. Patients completed a Visual Analogue Scale to measure pain intensity three times in 24 hours. The narcotic side effects of constipation and sedation were measured using the Constipation Assessment Scale and a sedation scale. Documentation was assessed using the Chart Audit for Pain. RESULTS: Patients in both units continued to experience pain even with pain management interventions. The critical care nurses administered an average of 30% of the maximum narcotic dose ordered and the surgical unit nurses, 36.8%. Documentation of the effect of the pain medication was scant on both units. Although sedation was not a problem in either unit, the majority of patients reported symptoms of constipation. Documentation of this problem was scant in both units. CONCLUSIONS: Results from this study suggest that nurses in both intensive care and surgical units do not appropriately assess, manage or evaluate pain and pain-related side effects. Patients who experience pain expect to have their pain controlled. Efforts must be made to change nurses' pain management behaviors.

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