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Elective Surgery Patients Often Report Poor Recovery

1 year after procedure, 17% have more pain and 24% have less vitality than before, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 1, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Many patients experience more physical and emotional problems a year after elective surgery than they did before their operation, researchers find.

The study team from the Netherlands interviewed 216 women and 185 men, average age 54, who underwent planned surgery, ranging from orthopedic to cosmetic procedures.

One year after their surgery, 17 percent of patients said they experienced more pain, 14 percent said their functional abilities had declined, 16 percent had poorer mental health, and 24 percent said they had lower vitality than before the surgery.

In terms of overall recovery, the average level of recovery was 79 percent at six months and 82 percent at one year after surgery. Only 47 percent of patients achieved near optimal recovery (defined as 90 percent or more) after one year, with about 15 percent of patients reporting their recovery at 50 percent or less.

The study was released online Aug. 24 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the British Journal of Surgery.

"Our study showed poor recovery was relatively frequent six and 12 months after surgery and could be partly explained by various physical and psychological factors. These included acute postoperative pain and presurgical anxiety," Dr. Madelon Peters of the clinical psychological science department at Maastricht University said in a journal news release.

"The strongest predictor of pain intensity at follow-up was the level of pain in the first four days after the patient's operation. Higher levels of acute postoperative pain were also associated with poorer long-term physical functioning and overall perceived recovery," Peters said. "We also found a significant association between patients who were worried before their operation about the consequences of surgery and lower than average improvements in physical functioning and vitality at follow-up."

The majority of changes in patients' health-related quality of life occurred in the first six months after surgery. After that time, the patients' conditions seemed to become stable, the study authors noted.

"It is clearly important to monitor how patients recover during this period as an initially poor recovery may have lasting consequences," Peters said.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about surgery.

SOURCE: British Journal of Surgery, news release, Aug. 25, 2010
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