Looking for Answers for Kids’ Chronic Pain

Chronic pain conditions in children leading to increasing hospital visits

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Children with particular long-term diseases may experience chronic pain. Yet children can also experience chronic pain even if the cause is less clear.

Researchers are trying to learn more about chronic pain that children experience so doctors can help more of these kids.

A recent study found that the number of children going to the hospital for chronic pain has been increasing. Chronic pain issues in 2010 was over eight times higher than the number of children admitted in 2004.

The most common problem the children had was stomach pain.

"Don't ignore chronic pain."

The study, led by Thomas A. Coffelt, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, looked at children going to the hospital for chronic pain issues.

The researchers used a database called the Pediatrics Health Information System to pull data related to children's characteristics if they were admitted to the hospital for chronic pain.

Children were not included in the study if they had sickle cell disease, cancer, burns, cerebral palsy, transplants or were dependent on a ventilator to breathe.

The researchers identified 3,752 children, from newborns to those aged 18, who had been admitted to the hospital between 2004 and 2010 for any kind of chronic pain not specifically tied to a condition.

The rate of admissions during these years increased considerably as time went on. From 2004 to 2010, the rate increased by more than eight times.

In 2004, a total of 143 patients were identified. The number increased each subsequent year until 2010, when 1,188 children were admitted for chronic pain.

The average age of patients coming in for chronic pain was 13, and the majority of the patients (79 percent) were white.

More than twice as many girls as boys were admitted for chronic pain: about five girls were admitted for every two boys.

The most common complaint was abdominal pain, but it was also very common for the children to have multiple issues going on.

In fact, each patient had an average of 10 different diagnoses. A total of 65 percent of the patients had a gastrointestinal diagnosis in addition to their chronic pain problem.

Further, 44 percent had a psychiatric condition, including 41 percent who had anxiety and 34 percent who had depression.

The average amount of time the children stayed in the hospital was seven days, and the patients underwent an average of 3 procedures.

In addition, 12.5 percent of the kids were readmitted to the hospital at least one time within the following year after they had been discharged.

"Admissions for chronic pain are rising," the authors wrote. "The average child admitted with chronic pain is a teenaged female with a wide variety of comorbid conditions, many of which are gastrointestinal and psychiatric in nature."

The researchers noted that it is important to learn more about the conditions so that better treatments can be developed instead of relying on pain medications like opiates and benzodiazepines that can become addictive.

The study was published July 1 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not use external funding, and there were no conflicts of interest reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 29, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013