How is pain managed in seriously ill children?

Thanks to the evolution of the latest medical technologies, children with serious illnesses are living longer than ever. But, according to Elana Evan, PhD, director of the UCLA Children’s Comfort Care Program (CCCP), the goal is to help these children thrive, not just survive.

“Research shows that how children perceive pain and cope with stress related to their diseases actually affects how they experience pain and respond to treatment,” Dr. Evan says. Many of these children spend months, or even years, in the hospital with conditions ranging from heart, liver and other ailments that require transplantation, to cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and rare genetic diseases, Dr. Evan explains. “Beyond providing excellent medical care, it’s important to make the children and their families feel cared for and empowered,” she says. “It’s a positive feedback loop that improves the entire care experience.”

Depending on the cause of the pain, a medical team, which may include physicians, nurses and therapists as well as a pediatric chaplain and social worker, will work to integrate pain management and behavioral and psychosocial strategies to develop creative quality-of-life plans designed to help seriously ill children reach their short- and long-term goals, given their unique situations. The team will also work to make families feel more comfortable by facilitating open communication with healthcare providers, guiding parents through difficult, day-to-day medical decision-making processes and coordinating care between many different doctors.

According to Lonnie Zeltzer, MD, director of the Pediatric Pain Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, many children with multiple complex illnesses that require repeated hospitalizations and numerous medical procedures may actually be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which increases their pain signals. To help address PTSD, an integrative pain team may provide techniques including yoga, craniosacral massage, art and music therapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation and psychological therapies, such as learning to use imagery to manage pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.