Analgesic use in the emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 1990 Sep;19(9):1010-3. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(05)82565-x.


The relief of pain is one of the most common reasons for seeking care in an emergency department. We conducted a retrospective chart review to see whether children received analgesic treatment similar to that of adults with the same acute, painful conditions. Charts of 112 pediatric patients from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ED and 156 patients from the Medical College of Pennsylvania ED were reviewed. Patient ages ranged from a few months to 97 years. All patients had acute pain due to sickle cell crises (20%), lower-extremity fractures (31%), or second- or third-degree burns (49%). Hospitalization was required in 15% of cases. In the ED, 60% of patients with painful conditions received no pain medication at all. When medications were given, they were usually narcotics. Children (aged 19 years or younger) were much less likely to receive pain medications than adults (P = .001). Those less than 2 years old received analgesics less often than older children (P less than .01). Senior citizens (aged 65 years or older) received analgesics as often as other adults. On discharge from the ED, 55% of all patients had no pain medications prescribed; and children were less likely than adults to receive analgesics at discharge (P less than .001). Pediatricians and emergency physicians are reluctant to use analgesics for children in pain. The data suggest that these physicians need additional education about management of acute pain.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Medicine / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pediatrics / methods


  • Analgesics