Surgical interventions can elicit neuroendocrine responses and sympathovagal imbalance, ultimately affecting cardiac autonomic function. Cardiac complications account for 30% of postoperative complications and are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality following non-cardiac surgery. One cardiovascular parameter, heart rate variability (HRV), has been found to be predictive of postoperative morbidity and mortality. HRV is defined as variation in time intervals between heartbeats and is affected by cardiac autonomic balance. Furthermore, altered HRV has been shown to predict cardiovascular events in non-surgical settings. In multiple studies, experimentally induced pain in healthy humans leads to reduced HRV suggesting a causal relationship. In a different studies, chronic pain has been associated with altered HRV, however, in the setting of clinical pain conditions, it remains unclear how much HRV impairment is due to pain itself versus autonomic changes related to analgesia. We aim to review the available evidence describing the association between postsurgical pain and HRV alterations in the early postoperative period.
Methods and analysis
We will conduct a scoping review of relevant studies using detailed searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE, in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis. Included studies will involve participants undergoing non-cardiac surgery and investigate outcomes of (1) measures of pain intensity; (2) measures of HRV and (3) statistical assessment of association between #1 and #2. As secondary review outcomes included studies will also be examined for other cardiovascular events and for their attempts to control for analgesic treatment and presurgical HRV differences among treatment groups in the analysis. This work aims to synthesise available evidence to inform future research questions related to postsurgical pain and cardiac complications.
Ethics and dissemination
Ethics review and approval is not required for this review. The results will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.