Pediatricians: Kids Suffering Needless Pain Post-Surgery

Children who have appendectomies or broken limbs are not given adequate narcotic pain medication, which leads to more hospital re-admissions than necessary, a new study in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery has found.

Thirteen percent of kids under age 18 who had had appendectomies reported pain that lingered for months, reports. "Children are not being given enough pain medication, and they're suffering needlessly," Dr. Zeev Kain, senior author of the study and a pediatric anesthesiologist at the University of California, Irvine, told CNN.

The issue is two-f0ld, researchers found, a combination of doctors being reticent to send powerful pain medications home with parents, and parents who are nervous about giving their children the painkillers. But the study's authors say that if doctors educate parents and write short-term prescriptions, and if parents carefully follow their doctors' instructions about proper use of the drugs, their children can experience significant pain relief with minimal risk.

Pediatric pain experts have these tips for parents:

1. Ask your doctor about pain medication before your child leaves the hospital

If you think your child is in pain or will be in pain once you return home from the hospital, ask about pain medication.

"And if your child was on something for pain in the hospital, ask why they're not continuing it when they go home," Petitti advises.

2. Ask your doctor when to give the medication

Ask if you should give your child medication before the pain starts or only if they're in pain, or if you should give the medication before your child tries to do a physical activity such as walking.

"You need to be really aggressive in terms of asking questions," Kain advises.

3. Fill out your child's prescription before you get home

When you arrive home with a sick child after a surgery or visit to the ER, it's often tough to leave that child to go get the medication. Kain advises filling the prescription on the way home or at the hospital pharmacy if your hospital has one.

4. Recognize when your child is in pain

Once you get home, remember that a child won't always cry, scream, or complain when they're in pain, pediatric pain experts say. Some children in pain become quiet and withdrawn or have trouble eating or sleeping.

Unfortunately, both parents and doctors sometimes miss the pain in the quiet kids.

A 2008 study titled "The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease" showed that a day after having a broken limb treated in the emergency room, 20% of children received no pain medication, and 44% received only one dose. The children who were most likely to get medication were those who were loud and cried a lot.

Children in certain ethnic groups may be less likely to say they're in pain because their culture places a high value on appearing stoic. Some studies have shown that Hispanics, for example, are less likely to talk about pain and ask for medicine.

5. Think about other ways to address the pain besides drugs

Alternative methods such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and music can be extremely helpful for kids in pain, Kain says.

Another technique is particularly powerful: distraction.

"You should definitely acknowledge your child's pain by saying something like 'Poor baby, I know it hurts to move, but then you should quickly move on to a solution," Kain says. "You can say 'let's go for a drive' or 'let's read a book' or 'let's plan your birthday party together.' Don't just let your child lie there miserably on the sofa."

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