Many Pediatricians Shy Away From Treating Chronic Pain

Who Is Responsible for Treating Chronic Pain in Kids?

Children Sitting on a BenchChildren can experience debilitating chronic pain just like everyone else. But a 2010 study revealed that most pediatricians do not believe it's their main responsibility to treat chronic pain.

For this study, researchers sent mail and online surveys about pediatric chronic pain to 800 randomly selected pediatricians. They analyzed the 303 responses and found that only 33% of those pediatricians consider treating chronic pain part of their primary responsibilities. Instead, they thought pain management specialists, other specialists, or hospice providers should be charged with treating pediatric chronic pain.

The survey also asked the respondents to list what treatments they use for pain (they were able to choose more than one). Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) topped the list with approximately 67% of pediatricians reporting that they often or always use them to treat pain. Acetaminophen was a preferred treatment for approximately 62% of respondents. Nearly 20% said they rarely or never prescribed opioids.

The survey results highlighted the hesitancy among pediatricians to use stronger pain medications—such as opioids—on their young patients. Many prescription pain medications carry serious side effects. In children, for instance, opioids can interfere with breathing, according to Dr. Lindsay A. Thompson, the study's lead researcher.

But those fears should not prevent physicians from treating chronic pain in their patients, she said.

"I think services for kids with chronic illness, life-limiting illnesses need to move to a life-long model, where pain is one of the first things that physicians and providers address," said Dr. Thompson, in a press release.

The researchers suggest more pain management education in medical school. Also, pediatricians may need to change their own opinions and work to reduce the stigma surrounding prescription pain medications. In doing so, the researchers believe pediatricians will be better able to independently treat the chronic pain that many of their patients face.

If you'd like to read more about this study, click here.

Updated on: 08/25/15
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What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is hard to define because it affects people so differently and can come in so many forms.
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