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Groups Say Children's Pain Is Undertreated

Kate Traynor

Health care professionals need to do a better job assessing and treating children's pain, say the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Pain Society (APS).

In a joint policy statement released this month, the two organizations say that effective pain treatment for children costs little and is widely available and safe. Despite this, say the organizations, acute pain in children is widely undertreated.

According to the policy statement, the proper treatment of acute pain in children is hindered by health care providers' misconception that children do not feel pain in the same way that adults do. Another barrier to adequate treatment is the notion held by some health care providers that "pain builds character" in children.

In addition to these misconceptions, treatment may be inadequate because health care workers do not properly assess and reexamine a child's level of pain. Also contributing to the problem is a lack of knowledge among health care workers about how best to treat a child's acute pain.

The policy statement focuses on illnesses, injuries, and medical procedures as the most common sources of pain in children. Pain felt by children when in a medical setting, says the policy, can often be "prevented or substantially relieved."

Health care providers, the statement says, should consider the use of analgesics even for "simple procedures," such as venipuncture, that cause distress in children. And the policy statement distinguishes between antianxiety agents and sedatives—which offer no pain relief but make it harder for children to talk about their pain—and analgesics, which truly reduce the level of pain.

Although AAP and APS said, in releasing the policy statement, that much can be done now to give children better pain relief, the two organizations called on health care workers to advocate for additional research on the management of pediatric pain.