Background: Current guidelines recommend assessing and relieving pain in all children and in all instances; yet, in clinical practice, management is frequently suboptimal. We investigated the attitude of Italian family pediatricians towards the evaluation and treatment of different types of acute pain in children aged 7-12 years.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study based on a 17-question survey accessible online from October 2017 to October 2018. Responders had to describe cases of children suffering from any type of acute pain among headache, sore throat, musculoskeletal/post-traumatic pain, and earache. Children's characteristics, pain assessment modalities and therapeutic approaches were queried. The following tests were used: Z-proportion to evaluate the distribution of categorical data; chi-squared and Kruskall-Wallis to explore data heterogeneity across groups; Mann-Whitney for head-to-head comparisons.
Results: Overall, 929 pediatricians presented 6335 cases uniformly distributed across the types examined. Pain was more frequently of moderate intensity (42.2%, P < 0.001) and short duration (within some days: 98.4%, P < 0.001). Only 50.1% of responders used an algometric scale to measure pain and 60.5% always prescribed a treatment. In children with mild-moderate pain (N = 4438), the most commonly used first-line non-opioids were ibuprofen (53.3%) and acetaminophen (44.4%). Importantly, a non-recommended dosage was prescribed in only 5.3% of acetaminophen-treated cases (overdosing). Among the misconceptions emerged, there were the following: i) ibuprofen and acetaminophen have different efficacy and safety profiles (when choosing the non-opioid, effectiveness weighted more for ibuprofen [79.7% vs 74.3%, P < 0.001] and tolerability for acetaminophen [74.0% vs 55.4%, P < 0.001]); ii) ibuprofen must be taken after meals to prevent gastric toxicities (52.5%); ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used combined/alternated for persisting mild-moderate pain (16.1%). In case of moderate-severe pain not completely controlled by opioids, ibuprofen and acetaminophen were the most used add-on medications, with ibuprofen being much more prescribed than acetaminophen (65.2% vs 23.7%, respectively) overall and in all pain types.
Conclusions: Several gaps exist between the current practice of pain assessment and treatment and recommendations. Further efforts are needed to raise awareness and improve education on the possible exposure of the child to short- and long-term consequences in case of suboptimal pain management.
Keywords: Acetaminophen; Algometric scale; Ibuprofen; Italy; Pain; Pediatrics; Survey.