Child in Post-operative Pain? You're on Your Own
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Your child is in pain following surgery? That's your problem.
USA Today reports most children are sent home the same day they undergo surgery, and pain management is routinely left in the hands of their parents with a prescription for pills.
Pediatrician Zeev Kain, chairman of anesthesiology at the University of California-Irvine, tells the newspaper that about 84 percent of pediatric surgeries are performed as outpatient procedures.
Doctors and nurses need to do more, he says, than scrawl out prescriptions for pain meds. Most parents are not educated in the dispensing of medication and some parents, afraid of side effects, may withhold painkillers.
Researchers looked at 261 children for a study published in the October 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics, and 24 percent of parents gave their kids either no medication or a single dose. This was in spite of the fact that 86 percent of parents reported that their children were in "significant pain" the first day after surgery.
"If 86 percent of parents think their child is in pain, then 86 percent should have given the child pain medication," Kain tells USA Today. "If they think their child is in pain but don't give them anything, that is where we have failed."
Physicians typically tell parents to give pain relievers every four hours as needed.
Parents should give painkillers continuously, rather than wait for children to complain of severe pain, psychologist Michelle Fortier, co-author of the Pediatrics article, tells USA Today.
Many people falsely believe their children will develop addictions to prescription pain meds, the paper reports, but that's not true. Another myth is that children will cry or complain if they are truly in pain. Kain tells the paper that's not true, either -- many children may simply become withdrawn.
Kain recommends filling prescriptions as soon as kids are discharged from the hospital. That way, the medication is available if they wake up in pain in the middle of the night. Parents also can request that children try a dose of painkillers before leaving the hospital, says Lisa Humphrey, medical director of pediatric palliative care at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.
"If their child is not acting like themselves, then we should look at pain management so children can go back to their job at hand, which is to have fun and explore," she says.
Related: Prescription Drug Use On the Rise in Children