Objectives. The objectives of this study were to determine whether the administration of morphine to children with acute abdominal pain would impede the diagnosis of appendicitis and to determine the efficacy of morphine in relieving the pain.

Methods. This was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial involving 5- to 16-year-old children who presented to the emergency department of a children’s hospital with a chief complaint of acute abdominal pain that was thought by the pediatric emergency attending physician to require a surgical consultation. Subjects were randomized to receive intravenously administered morphine or normal saline solution. Clinical data and the emergency physician’s confidence in his or her clinical diagnosis (0–100%) were recorded systematically with a standardized form. This was repeated 15 minutes after administration of the study medication. The surgeon assessed the child within 1 hour and completed a similar data collection sheet. Pain was assessed, with a color analog scale, before and after study medication administration. Each subject was monitored for 2 weeks after enrollment.

Results. One hundred eight children were enrolled; 52 received morphine and 56 received a placebo saline solution. There were no differences between groups in demographic variables or the degree of pain. There were no differences between groups in the diagnoses of appendicitis or perforated appendicitis or the number of children who were observed and then underwent laparotomy. The reduction in the mean pain score was significantly greater in the morphine group (2.2 vs 1.2 cm). The emergency physicians’ and surgeons’ confidence in their diagnoses was not affected by the administration of morphine.

Conclusions. Our data show that morphine effectively reduces the intensity of pain among children with acute abdominal pain and morphine does not seem to impede the diagnosis of appendicitis.

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