A Systematic Review of Race, Sex, and Socioeconomic Status Differences in Postoperative Pain and Pain Management

Academic Article


  • Purpose: Optimal postoperative pain management remains a significant problem despite the availability of multiple preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative pain management interventions. Recent studies suggest that racialized minorities, female sex, and individuals of lower socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to experience more severe pain and inadequate pain management postoperatively. Our systematic review aimed to determine race, sex, and SES differences in postoperative pain and postoperative pain management. Design: This study is a systematic review of literature. Methods: Using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) methodology, we systematically searched 5 databases: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), PubMed, Embase, Scopus, and Cochrane. We included primary source peer-reviewed articles published after 1990 that measured postoperative pain and race/ethnicity, sex/gender, or SES, which were published in English. Two pairs of reviewers independently screened each title, abstract, and article for inclusion. In cases of disagreement, a third reviewer broke the tie. Findings: A total of 464 articles were screened, of which 32 were included in this study. In most studies, Blacks/African American experience more severe postoperative pain than Whites/Caucasians. Whites were more likely to be prescribed opioids for pain management than Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Also, individuals of lower SES and females reported more postoperative pain. One study found no race/ethnic group differences in pain scores and opioid use after the implementation of the enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) protocol. Conclusion: Optimal postoperative pain relief continues to be a challenge for individuals who self-identify as racialized minorities, females, and those of lower SES. Standardization of care may help reduce disparities in postoperative pain management.
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  • Thurston KL; Zhang SJ; Wilbanks BA; Billings R; Aroke EN