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Effects of anesthetic depth on postoperative pain and delirium: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials with trial sequential analysis



Whether anesthetic depth affects postoperative outcomes remains controversial. This meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the effects of deep vs. light anesthesia on postoperative pain, cognitive function, recovery from anesthesia, complications, and mortality.


PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane CENTRAL databases were searched until January 2022 for randomized controlled trials comparing deep and light anesthesia in adult surgical patients. The co-primary outcomes were postoperative pain and delirium (assessed using the confusion assessment method). We conducted a meta-analysis using a random-effects model. We assessed publication bias using the Begg's rank correlation test and Egger's linear regression. We evaluated the evidence using the trial sequential analysis and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology. We conducted subgroup analyses for pain scores at different postoperative time points and delirium according to cardiac or non-cardiac surgery.


A total of 26 trials with 10,743 patients were included. Deep anesthesia compared with light anesthesia (a mean difference in bispectral index of -12 to -11) was associated with lower pain scores at rest at 0 to 1 h postoperatively (weighted mean difference = -0.72, 95% confidence interval [CI] = -1.25 to -0.18, P  = 0.009; moderate-quality evidence) and an increased incidence of postoperative delirium (24.95% vs. 15.92%; risk ratio = 1.57, 95% CI = 1.28-1.91, P  < 0.0001; high-quality evidence). No publication bias was detected. For the exploratory secondary outcomes, deep anesthesia was associated with prolonged postoperative recovery, without affecting neurocognitive outcomes, major complications, or mortality. In the subgroup analyses, the deep anesthesia group had lower pain scores at rest and on movement during 24 h postoperatively, without statistically significant subgroup differences, and deep anesthesia was associated with an increased incidence of delirium after non-cardiac and cardiac surgeries, without statistically significant subgroup differences.


Deep anesthesia reduced early postoperative pain but increased postoperative delirium. The current evidence does not support the use of deep anesthesia in clinical practice.

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