Eyecatcher For parents

Why does my child have constant pain?

Picture with Prof. Zernikow and a young pain patient

a)...the search for a diagnosis

The uncertainty caused by the inability of doctors to give a name to an illness is often hard for parents to endure. They ask themselves: What if an unrecognized, dangerous illness is causing the pain? And they think: There must be a clear cause of the pain!

If the search for a cause goes on for a long time, more and more doctors and therapists are consulted. Sometimes also, investigative procedures are used that one doctor feels are appropriate but another does not.

Although the search for a cause is right and important, it should not be forgotten that pain itself can be an illness – a “pain condition”. The cause of the pain then lies in pain memory.

“Pain conditions” are relatively common – in every case more common than that which a long investigation process seeks to find. For this reason it’s worth the effort to ascertain if perhaps a pain condition is present. This condition in children and adolescents is often amenable to treatment.

b)...life with a diagnosis

Sometimes the making of a diagnosis, that is, the recognition and naming of an illness, doesn’t lead to the success that everyone wishes for. In some patients the diagnosis doesn’t explain why the child has such severe pain. In some others the diagnosed illness is difficult to treat or can’t be treated. In both cases, both parents and doctors feel helpless and at a loss as to how to treat the child or adolescent’s pain.

Here it’s important to know that the pain that is associated with a physical illness, for example, paraplegia or after an operation, is treatable. For chronic pain has other causes besides the physical ones, and these are often amenable to treatment (see “What is chronic pain?”).

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