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Children suffer unnecessarily from chronic postoperative pain

First-of-its-kind UCI study suggests need for improved pediatric care

Are children suffering needlessly after surgery? UC Irvine anesthesiologists who specialize in pediatric care believe so.

An operation can be one of the most traumatic events children face, and according to a UCI study, many of them experience unnecessary postsurgical pain lasting weeks or months.

Such chronic pain is well understood and treated in adults but has been generally overlooked in pediatric patients, said Dr. Zeev Kain, professor and chair of anesthesiology & perioperative care.

This month, he and his UCI colleagues published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery the first-ever study of chronic postoperative pain in children. Out of 113 youngsters who had procedures ranging from appendectomies to orthopedic surgery, 13 percent reported pain that lingered for months.

While the sample group was small, Kain said, the study’s implications are profound. Four million children undergo surgical procedures in the U.S. each year, suggesting that more than half a million of them suffer well after leaving the hospital. This results in more school absences and visits to the doctor and, for parents, days off work.

Kain said the research indicates that physicians need to more effectively manage pain within 48 hours of surgery – which, in adults, has been shown to minimize the potential for chronic pain – and that parents should be properly prepared to alleviate their child’s pain at home.

“Medical professionals must understand this issue better and learn how to work with parents to care for chronic pain,” he said. “We hope this study marks a first step toward long-term, definitive solutions.”

UCI pediatric pain psychologist Michelle Fortier led the study – which involved patients from CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, Calif. – and Drs. Jody Chou and Eva Mauer also participated.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4.2 billion. For more UCI news, visit

News Radio: UCI maintains on campus an ISDN line for conducting interviews with its faculty and experts. Use of this line is available for a fee to radio news programs/stations that wish to interview UCI faculty and experts. Use of the ISDN line is subject to availability and approval by the university.

Tom Vasich | EurekAlert!
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