Journal of Anesthesia

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 846–853

Assessment of postoperative pain intensity by using photoplethysmography

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00540-014-1837-3

Cite this article as:
Ling, P., Siyuan, Y., Wei, W. et al. J Anesth (2014) 28: 846. doi:10.1007/s00540-014-1837-3



Timely assessment of acute postoperative pain is very important for pain management. No objective and reliable method to assess postoperative pain intensity exists till now. The aim of the study was to investigate the feasibility of photoplethysmography (PPG) signals in postoperative pain assessment.


Thirty patients scheduled for elective abdominal surgery under general anesthesia were examined. Finger PPG signals and visual analogue scale (VAS) score were acquired before and 5, 10, 20, and 30 min after sufentanil administration when the patients were awake and transferred to the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). During each pain rating, the patient's blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse oxygen saturation were recorded. The amplitude of alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) extracted from finger PPG signals were analyzed, and the ratio of AC and DC (AC/DC) was calculated. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves were built to assess the performance of AC and AC/DC to detect patients with VAS >4 in the PACU.


After administration of sufentanil, VAS scores decreased significantly (p < 0.05), as did blood pressure and heart rate. Simultaneously, both values of AC and AC/DC increased significantly. The VAS score had significant correlations with AC (r = −0.477; p < 0.01), AC/DC (r = −0.738; p < 0.01) and heart rate (r = 0.280; p < 0.01). In contrast, no statistical correlations between VAS score and blood pressure were found. Further analysis found significant differences in both AC and AC/DC among different pain levels, but no obvious differences in blood pressures and heart rate. The area under the ROC curves were 0.754 for AC and 0.795 for AC/DC, respectively.


The finger PPG signal can be used in acute postoperative pain assessment. Both AC/DC and AC had significant correlations with the pain rating levels, while blood pressure and heart rate were unreliable in pain assessment.


Photoplethysmography Pain intensity Vital sign 

Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peng Ling
    • 1
  • Yu Siyuan
    • 1
    • 4
  • Wei Wei
    • 1
  • Gong Quan
    • 2
  • Gao Bo
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Anesthesiology, West China HospitalSichuan UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Orthopedics, West China HospitalSichuan UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of PhysicsSichuan UniversityChengduPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Department of AnesthesiologyChildren’s Hospital of Chongqing Medical UniversityChongqingPeople’s Republic of China