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Measurement of P...
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Studies on Preop...
Prevention and T...
Hospital Anxiety...
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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 37-42

Preoperative anxiety-an important but neglected issue: A narrative review

Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care, Pt. B.D. Sharma University of Health Sciences, Rohtak, Haryana, India

Date of Submission29-Apr-2016
Date of Acceptance29-Jul-2016
Date of Web Publication16-Dec-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Teena Bansal
2/8 FM, Medical Campus, PGIMS, Rohtak - 124 001, Haryana
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0973-0311.195955

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Anxiety is an emotional state characterized by apprehension and fear resulting from the anticipation of a threatening event. The incidence of preoperative anxiety ranges from 11% to 80% in adult patients and also varies among different surgical groups. Preoperative anxiety may lead to various problems and a wide range of physiological and psychological responses. A variety of objective and subjective methods are available for measuring preoperative anxiety. Every patient scheduled for surgery should be assessed for the presence of anxiety in their routine preoperative anesthesia assessment, and counseling should be done by anesthesiologist in patients with a high level of anxiety. Surgery information reduces anxiety in the preoperative period.

Keywords: Management, measurement, preoperative anxiety, prevention

How to cite this article:
Bansal T, Joon A. Preoperative anxiety-an important but neglected issue: A narrative review. Indian Anaesth Forum 2016;17:37-42

How to cite this URL:
Bansal T, Joon A. Preoperative anxiety-an important but neglected issue: A narrative review. Indian Anaesth Forum [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Jun 4];17:37-42. Available from: http://www.theiaforum.org/text.asp?2016/17/2/37/195955

  Introduction Top

Anxiety is an emotional state characterized by apprehension and fear resulting from the anticipation of a threatening event. The incidence of preoperative anxiety ranges from 11% to 80% in adult patients and also varies among different surgical groups.[1]

Preoperative anxiety may lead to various problems such as difficult venous access due to peripheral vasoconstriction, autonomic fluctuations, delayed jaw relaxation and coughing during induction of anesthesia, and increased anesthetic requirement. In addition, it also has been correlated with increased pain, nausea, and vomiting in the postoperative period; prolonged recovery; and increased the risk of infection.[2],[3],[4] High preoperative anxiety levels are related to an altered neuroendocrine response which might be deleterious in the postoperative period.[5],[6]

A wide range of responses may be caused by anxiety. Physiological responses include tachycardia; hypertension; elevated temperature; sweating; nausea; and a heightened sense of touch, smell, or hearing.[7] Psychological responses include changes in behavior such as increased tension, apprehension, nervousness, and aggression.[8]

Anxiety is a subjective emotion. Various factors influencing anxiety in a patient planned for surgery include age, gender, the extent and type of surgery, previous hospital experiences, susceptibility to and ability to cope with stressful experiences, and preoperative information.[9]

We searched PubMed and Scopus databases with preoperative anxiety, prevention, and management as keywords for literature search.

  Measurement of Preoperative Anxiety Top

  • Objective methods
  • Subjective methods.

The measurement of preoperative anxiety in modern elective surgery is becoming very difficult, mainly due to the imposed time restrictions. A variety of objective and subjective methods are available for measuring preoperative anxiety. Objective methods include indirect measurement of sympatheticoadrenal activity using heart rate and blood pressure or skin conductance.[10],[11] Plasma cortisol, urinary catecholamine excretion, and plasma catecholamines have been used as more direct measures of sympatheticoadrenal activity.[12],[13],[14]

Nisbet et al. measured and displayed changes in electrical skin potential and suggested that these changes provide a continuous record of one sign known to vary with anxiety and sedation.[11] In a study by Martinez et al., in thirty patients scheduled for elective surgery emotional responses before anesthesia and surgery and the sedative effect of drugs used for preoperative medications were estimated by the measurement of urine catecholamines. Values of 20 ng/min of adrenaline in the urine were considered indicative of significant emotional tension.[13] Fell et al. assessed the value of measurement of plasma catecholamine concentration as an objective index of anxiety. A study was performed on 48 surgical patients who were asked to rate their perceived anxiety on the linear analog scale immediately before premedication and immediately before induction of anesthesia. There were no significant changes in perceived anxiety or plasma noradrenaline concentration following premedication. However, compared with values before premedication, there was a mean percentage increase in plasma adrenaline concentration of 40% before induction of anesthesia. The authors suggested that the measurement of plasma catecholamine concentration may be a useful method for the objective assessment of anxiety in the period before the operation and for assessing the efficacy of different preoperative medications.[14]

Subjective methods include hospital anxiety and depression (HAD), state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI), visual analog scale for anxiety (VAS-A), the Amsterdam preoperative anxiety and information scale (APAIS), multiple affect adjective check list (MAACL), and linear analog anxiety scale (LAAS).[15],[16],[17],[18],[19]

  Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale Top
[Table 1]
Table 1: Hospital anxiety and depression scale[15]

Click here to view

HAD was originally developed by Zigmond and Snaith and is commonly used by clinicians to determine the levels of anxiety and depression that a patient is experiencing.[15] It is a fourteen item scale. Seven of the items relate to anxiety and seven relate to depression. This is a useful tool for the detection of anxiety and depression in people with physical health problems.

The items of questionnaire that relate to anxiety are as follows:

  • I feel tense or wound up
  • I get a sort of frightened feeling as if something bad is about to happen
  • Worrying thoughts go through my mind
  • I can sit at ease and feel relaxed
  • I get a sort of frightened feeling like butterflies in the stomach
  • I feel restless and have to be on the move
  • I get a sudden feeling of panic.

The items of questionnaire that relate to depression are as follows:

  • I still enjoy the things I used to enjoy
  • I can laugh and see the funny side of things
  • I feel cheerful
  • I feel as if I am slowed down
  • I have lost interest in my appearance
  • I look forward with enjoyment to things
  • I can enjoy a good book or radio or TV program.

Each item on the questionnaire is scored from 0 to 3 with three indicating higher symptom frequencies. Score for each subscale (anxiety and depression) can range from 0 to 21 [Table 1]:

However, the limitation of this scale is that it measures the psychological stress expressed as anxiety by the patients during the week before surgery.

  State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Top
[Table 2] and [Table 3]
Table 2: State trait anxiety inventory Form Y-1

Click here to view
Table 3: State trait anxiety inventory Form Y-2

Click here to view

STAI is suitable for individuals who are 15-year-old and older [Table 2] and [Table 3]. The STAI Form Y is the definitive instrument for measuring anxiety in adults. It clearly differentiates between the temporary condition of "state anxiety" and the more general and long-standing quality of "trait anxiety." The inventory's simplicity makes it ideal for evaluating individuals with lower educational backgrounds. Adapted in more than forty languages, the STAI is the leading measure of personal anxiety globally. The STAI has forty questions with a range of four possible responses to each. The state anxiety scale (STAI Form Y-1) consists of twenty statements that evaluate how the respondent feels "right now" at this moment. The trait anxiety scale (STAI Form Y-2) consists of twenty statements that evaluate how the respondent feels "generally." In responding to the S-anxiety scale, the patients choose the number that best describes the intensity of their feelings: (1) not at all, (2) somewhat, (3) moderately, and (4) very much so. In responding to the T-anxiety scale, patients rate the frequency of their feelings on the following four-point scale: (1) almost never, (2) sometimes, (3) often, and (4) almost always.

Each STAI item is given a weighted score of 1-4. A rating of four indicates the presence of high levels of anxiety for the ten S-anxiety items (#3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17, and 18) and eleven T-anxiety items (#22, 24, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 35, 37, 38, and 40). A high rating indicates the absence of anxiety for the remaining ten S-anxiety items and nine T-anxiety items. The scoring weights for the anxiety present items are the same as the chosen numbers on the test form. The scoring weights for the anxiety-absent items are reversed. Scores for both the S-Anxiety and the T-anxiety scales can vary from a minimum of twenty to a maximum of eighty. The sum of the scores on all items constitutes the individual's score.[16]

  Visual Analog Scale-A Top

VAS-A is a useful and easily applicable method for evaluation of preoperative anxiety and allows detection of high anxiety levels in various surgical groups. The VAS comprises a 100 mm line, at the left hand of which is a statement indicating zero anxiety ("not anxiety at all") and at the right hand the statement "most anxious I can imagine." Patients are asked to mark the line to indicate the degree of their anxiety.[1 7 ]

  Amsterdam Preoperative Anxiety and Information Scale Top
[Table 4]
Table 4: Amsterdam preoperative anxiety and information scale[18]

Click here to view

Moerman et al. developed the APAIS, which is a six-item questionnaire. The aim of this questionnaire was two-fold: To identify those patients who are anxious and to identify the level of information required by each individual.[18]

The APAIS is a simple tool designed to be used in the clinical area. Each question has a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely) [Table 4]. Scoring is straightforward, and patients mark their feelings with regard to each question. The tool allows the health-care professional to identify what the patient is feeling at that time.

The scores from questions 1, 2, 4, and 5 are added together to show the patient's level of anxiety, while the scores for questions 3 and 6 are added together to identify the patient's need for information. A patient with a score of 11 or more on the anxiety scale experiences anxiety. On the information scale, patients scoring 2-4 are classified as having little or no information requirements, patients scoring 5-7 are classified as having an average information requirement and the patients scoring 8-10 are considered as having high information requirements. Patients with a score of 5 or above should be given information on the topics about which they wish to be informed and in accordance with their score. A score below 5 should be a signal to provide the patient with no more information than is legally required. The main limitation of this scale is that the tools do not distinguish well between fear of anesthesia and fear of surgery.

  Multiple Affect Adjective Check List Top
[Table 5]
Table 5: Multiple affect adjective check list[19]

Click here to view

The sign in parentheses indicates either an "anxiety present" (+) or "anxiety absent" (-) adjective. Patients are asked to tick all those words which describe their feeling at the moment. One mark is scored for each of 11 "anxiety present" adjectives selected and also for each of 10 "anxiety absent" adjectives not selected. The possible range of scores is therefore 0-21, with higher scores indicating greater levels of anxiety [Table 5].

  Linear Analog Anxiety Scale Top

Patients are asked to indicate on a 100 mm horizontal scale, between the limits "calm" and "terrified," how tense they feel at that moment.

The objective methods are considered to be reasonably good indicators of preoperative anxiety though they may be fallacious in patients suffering from systemic diseases such as hypertension, cardiac rhythm disturbances, or some endocrine disorders. Moreover, they require monitoring team and financial expenditure. Subjective method is a sensitive and accurate method of measurement of anxiety, but observer bias is inevitable in such a method of assessment.

  Studies on Preoperative Anxiety Top

Various studies have been done to measure the preoperative anxiety using different scales. Millar et al. compared the three measurements of anxiety to determine their equivalence in assessing anxiety before surgery. Forty-four patients awaiting breast cancer surgery completed the state scale of the STAI, the HAD scale, and a 100 mm VAS. The authors concluded that the scales were equivalent in their assessment of anxiety before surgery, but the reference to normative data was important in establishing such equivalence and in determining the patient's state.[17]

Hicks et al. assessed preoperative anxiety using HAD scale, MAACL, and LAAS in 100 consecutive day care patients undergoing the termination of pregnancy. The HAD scale was readily accepted and easily understood by the patients. There was a high degree of correlation between the HAD scale and both the MAACL (correlation coefficient 0.74) and LAAS (correlation coefficient 0.67). There was only a moderate degree of correlation between the HAD scale and the anesthetist's assessment of anxiety (correlation coefficient 0.46) and concluded that HAD scale is a useful method of subjective measurement of preoperative anxiety.[19]

Facco et al. validated VAS-A in preanesthetic evaluation.[20] Kindler et al. studied anxiety in 734 patients by means of VAS and the State Anxiety Score of the Spielberger STAI. The mean STAI anxiety score was 39 ± 1 (n = 486) and the mean VAS for fear of anesthesia was 29 ± 1 (n = 539). Patients feared surgery significantly more than anesthesia (P < 0.001). The VAS measuring fear of anesthesia correlated well with the STAI score (r = 0.55, P < 0.01). Young patients, female patients, and patients with no previous anesthetic experience or a previous negative anesthetic experience had higher anxiety scores. Patients worried most about the waiting period preceding surgery and were least concerned about possible awareness intraoperatively.[21]

Hernandez-Palazon et al. carried out a prospective longitudinal study on 300 cardiac surgery patients. The patients were assessed regarding their preoperative anxiety level using VAS-A, APAIS, and a set of specific anxiety-related questions. Ninety-four percent of the patients presented preoperative anxiety with 37% developing high anxiety (VAS-A ≥7). The preoperative length of stay >2 days was the only significant risk factor for preoperative anxiety. A positive correlation was found between anxiety level (APAISa ) and requirement of knowledge (APAISk ). APAISa and APAISk scores were greater for surgery than for anesthesia. In addition, the results showed that the most common anxieties resulted from the operation, waiting for surgery, not knowing what is happening, postoperative pain, awareness during anesthesia, and not awakening from anesthesia.[22]

Maheshwari et al. evaluated preoperative anxiety in patients selecting either general or regional anesthesia for elective cesarean section. The overall rate of anxiety was observed in 72.7% (112/154) patients. The rate of anxiety was significantly high in patients of general anesthesia group as compared to regional anesthesia group (97.2% [69/7] vs. 51.8% [43/83]; P < 0.01). A statistically significant association with preoperative anxiety (VAS ≥50) was observed with factors such as age <25 years, working women, nulliparous and primiparous, no previous anesthesia experience, having previous anesthesia experience under general anesthesia, and those having their source of information from nonanesthetists. The authors concluded that anxiety was one of the reasons for refusing regional anesthesia and suggested that every patient coming for the elective cesarean section should be assessed for the presence of anxiety in their routine preoperative anesthesia assessment. This measure may help to reduce the anxiety and assist in making a rational decision regarding their choice of anesthesia technique.[23]

  Prevention and Treatment of Preoperative Anxiety Top

Patients preparing to undergo surgery should not suffer needless anxiety. Various steps have been taken to reduce preoperative anxiety like the use of premedicant drugs, preoperative visit by anesthetist, counseling, and videos. Sedative premedication is routinely administered to reduce preoperative anxiety. However, sedatives have their own side effects which can be minimized by the use of nonpharmacological interventions.

Information about surgery reduces anxiety in the preoperative period.[24],[25] Preanesthetic consultation clinic could be the right place to transmit the necessary information and clarify the patients' enquiries. A study conducted by Stephen et al. demonstrated that consultation at the preanesthetic checkup clinic has a statistically significant positive effect on alleviating patients' anxiety.[26] Preoperative visit by the anesthetist also plays a major role to relieve anxiety.[27]

Jlala et al. have reported the beneficial outcomes after presenting a video containing information concerning anesthesia to patients before their surgery.[28] Synder-Ramos et al. compared three methods of conducting the preanesthetic visit. The patients were randomized to a routine preanesthetic interview, a brochure plus an interview, or a self-made documentary video plus an interview. These authors suggested that the use of a documentary video to supplement a patient interview during the preanesthetic visit may be a more effective technique than a brochure or a personal interview alone for conveying information to patients undergoing surgery.[29]

A systematic review was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of various preoperative educational interventions in reducing preoperative anxiety. Twelve randomized trials involving a total of 1752 participants were included in the review. Four studies used audiovisual, two trials used visual, two trials used multimedia supported education, one trial used a website, two trials involved verbal education delivered by a psychologist or a nurse facilitator couplets with leaflets, and one trial used information leaflets only. Eight trials demonstrated that preoperative education intervention reduced preoperative anxiety significantly.[30] Acupressure has also been found to be effective in decreasing preoperative anxiety.[31]

Every patient requiring surgery should be assessed for the presence of anxiety in their routine preoperative anesthesia assessment and the patient found to have a high level of anxiety should be scheduled for an additional counseling session from the anesthetist.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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Millar K, Jelicic M, Bonke B, Asbury AJ. Assessment of preoperative anxiety: Comparison of measures in patients awaiting surgery for breast cancer. Br J Anaesth 1995;74:180-3.  Back to cited text no. 17
Moerman N, van Dam FS, Muller MJ, Oosting H. The Amsterdam preoperative anxiety and information scale (APAIS). Anesth Analg 1996;82:445-51.  Back to cited text no. 18
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Facco E, Stellini E, Bacci C, Manani G, Pavan C, Cavallin F, et al. Validation of visual analogue scale for anxiety (VAS-A) in preanesthesia evaluation. Minerva Anestesiol 2013;79:1389-95.  Back to cited text no. 20
Kindler CH, Harms C, Amsler F, Ihde-Scholl T, Scheidegger D. The visual analog scale allows effective measurement of preoperative anxiety and detection of patients′ anesthetic concerns. Anesth Analg 2000;90:706-12.  Back to cited text no. 21
Hernandez-Palazon J, Fuentes-Garcia D, Falcon-Arana L, Rodriguez-Ribo A, Garcia-Palenciano C, Roca-Calvo MJ. Visual analogue scale for anxiety and Amsterdam preoperative anxiety scale provide a simple and reliable measurement of preoperative anxiety in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Int Cardiovasc Res J 2015;9:1-6.  Back to cited text no. 22
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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]

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