The number of children and teenagers admitted to pediatric hospitals with chronic pain has risen dramatically in recent years, according to a new study, with nearly one in four cases involving stomach pain.
“We are seeing a lot more young patients with chronic pain syndrome,” said lead author Thomas A. Coffelt, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “It is quite alarming to us.”
Researchers gathered information on 3,752 children admitted for chronic pain at 43 pediatric hospitals in the U.S. from 2004 to 2010. During that period the number of admissions increased each year; until by 2010 over eight times as many children were admitted for pain as in 2004. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
More than twice as many girls were admitted for chronic pain than boys. The average age of the patients was 13 and the majority (79%) was white.
The most common complaint was abdominal pain, but it was also very common for the children to have multiple diagnoses after they were admitted. Nearly two out of three patients were diagnosed with a gastrointestinal problem in addition to their chronic pain. Forty-four percent had a psychiatric condition, 41% suffered from anxiety and 34% were depressed.
The average amount of time the children stayed in the hospital was seven days. About 12% of the kids were readmitted to the hospital at least once within a year.
“We can’t identify the underlying (cause) of pain, which is why we struggle with it,” Coffelt said. “We need to find a better way to treat these patients.”
The head of the pediatric pain clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles says treating chronic pain at an early age is important to prevent it from becoming a lifetime disorder.
“The problem with not treating it is that it can get worse, said Jeffrey Gold, PhD, director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital. “The sooner you can disrupt that (pain) signaling, the better off you are. That’s why chronic pain in kids, when appropriately treated, may not necessarily lead to chronic pain in adulthood. When you have an adult with chronic pain, that’s a lot more challenging to correct.”
Gold says children are more likely to respond to treatment such as massage, acupuncture, counseling and medication.
In recent years, Gold has seen a “spike” in the number of children admitted to his pain clinic, but he doesn’t think it’s the result of more kids having pain. He says families and physicians are simply more aware of pediatric pain, and are more likely to seek specialized treatment.
“In the last ten years I’ve noticed that kids make it to our clinic sooner than they used to. That’s definitely a practice that’s changed,” Gold told National Pain Report. “Now we’re seeing them much sooner, which is better for the kid and better for the family because its gives us a chance to start that rehabilitation sooner.”
More Younger People Diagnosed with Gout
Meanwhile, researchers in Taiwan say a growing number of young adults in that country are being diagnosed with gout, possibly because of their high consumption of sugary drinks.
Chen Shih-yang, director of Country Hospital’s gout treatment center, says in the 1980’s gout occurred mainly in men in their 50s and 60s. In the 1990s it grew increasingly common among men in their 30s and is now showing up in men in their 20s.
Chen attributes the growing number of young people with gout to their frequent consumption of sugary drinks, which contain high levels of purine that results in excess uric acid in the blood, which is the main cause of gout.
More than 8 million Americans suffer from gout, an inflammatory arthritis of the joints that causes excruciating pain and swelling. Their bodies produce too much uric acid or have problems flushing it out, causing urate crystals to build up in the joints. One of the most common symptoms of gout is waking up at night feeling like your big toe is on fire.