The effectiveness and safety of opioid-free anesthesia (OFA) regimens in distinct types of surgeries remain controversial. In this study, we investigated whether OFA could reduce the occurrence of chronic postoperative pain in patients receiving video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS).
We conducted a 2-center, randomized, controlled trial from September 2021 to January 2022. A total of 162 lung tumor patients scheduled to undergo VATS were randomly divided into an opioid-based anesthesia (OA) group and an OFA group. The OA group received general anesthesia combined with thoracic epidural block using morphine, while the OFA group received general anesthesia combined with thoracic epidural block using esketamine. Patient-controlled epidural analgesia (PCEA) was used after surgery (ropivacaine and morphine for the OA group versus ropivacaine and esketamine for the OFA group). The primary end point was chronic pain rates at 3 months after VATS, which were analyzed using a logistic regression model. The secondary end points were chronic pain rates at 6 months, acute pain rates at 24 hours and 48 hours postoperatively, postoperative side effects, and perioperative variables.
The final analysis included 159 patients. Acute postoperative pain at 24 hours occurred in 0 of the 79 (0%) patients in the OA group and 10 of the 80 (17.5%) patients in the OFA group (odds ratio, 52.14; 95% confidence interval [CI], 6.47–420.10; P < .001). Acute postoperative pain at 48 hours occurred in 3 of the 79 (3.8%) patients in the OA group and 2 of the 80 (2.5%) patients in the OFA group (odds ratio, 2.07; 95% CI, 0.99–4.32; P = .053). In this study, none of the patients had moderate or severe pain in either group at 3 and 6 months postsurgically. Mild chronic postoperative pain at 3 months occurred in 27 of the 79 (34.2%) patients in the OA group and 14 of the 80 (17.5%) patients in the OFA group (odds ratio, 3.52; 95% CI, 1.49–8.31; P = .004). At 6 months, mild chronic pain still occurred in 23 of the 79 (29.1%) patients in the OA group and 9 of the 80 (11.3%) patients in the OFA group (odds ratio, 5.55; 95% CI, 2.01–15.33; P = .001). In addition, the OFA group included fewer patients with side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and pruritus, within 48 hours after surgery.
Replacement of opioids by esketamine, intraoperatively as intravenous injection and epidural infusion and postoperatively as epidural infusion, reduces the incidence of mild chronic postoperative pain and side effects in patients after VATS.