Pain after surgery is common. It is also normal and to be expected. Steps can be taken to minimize or eliminate pain, but pain that gets worse, especially with other symptoms, can be a sign of a surgical complication that may need to be checked by the doctor.
Children who have surgery experience pain just as adults do, and they are usually able to express their pain in one form or another. Most children older than 18 months can use the word "pain", and children younger than 18 months often say they are"hurt" or they have a "boo-boo."
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our June 2012 issue, we asked WebMD's child care expert, Roy Benaroch, MD, if parents should still keep ipecac in case their child swallows a poison.
Q: I was always told to keep ipecac in the medicine cabinet. Now I hear I shouldn't. What changed?
A: For decades, parents were advised to keep a bottle of ipecac on hand, just in case a child ingested something poisonous...
However, children often have a hard time explaining how much pain they feel. In addition, very young children who cannot speak have a more difficult time communicating how much pain they feel. Consequently, the parent must watch the child for nonverbal signs of pain that may include the following:
Unhappy facial expressions
The parent should note how the child is behaving compared to his or her usual behaviour and tell the doctor. The doctor may use pictures that the child can choose from to indicate where the child feels pain and how much pain he or she feels. A happy, playful child who is sleeping and eating well is rarely in pain.
Just as children express pain differently, pain management in children can also vary. Dosages and availability of pain medications are different for children. With children, dosages are often calculated by weight. Therefore, knowing the child’s weight is important.
Children may also be influenced by other factors. For example, a child may have a strong fear of the surgical procedure that may last even after the surgery, or the child may believe the pain of surgery is a punishment for something. Therefore, explaining to the child what is going to happen and why, both before and after the surgery, is important. It also allows the child to ask questions and talk about his or her fears
Having a plan for managing a child’s pain after surgery is important. Discuss the type of medication, dosages, and timing of medications with the child’s doctor. Also, discuss what other treatments and instruction will minimize pain and anxiety after surgery.