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Easing Kids' Fears Of Surgery

For many of the more than one million children under age 15 who have surgery every year, the experience can be a frightening one. CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports on how doctors and parents can help put children at ease before they undergo an operation.

While the day of the surgery is stressful, about 50 percent of kids have anxiety several weeks, even months after the operation. Symptoms of anxiety can include nightmares, bed wetting, tantrums, and eating disorders. Two studies by Dr. Zeev Kain of Yale University suggest that one way to reduce children's anxiety levels on the day of surgery may be a sedative.

In one study, Dr. Kain found that giving children between the ages of 2 and 7 a sedative before they went in the operating room reduced the children's anxiety levels by half, not only before the operation, but up to a week afterwards.

In another study, Dr. Kain divided 88 children about to have surgery into three groups: one group had a sedative, one group had a parent with them and the third group had neither.

While all the children had the same level of anxiety in the beginning, by the time the kids had been rolled into the operating room and put to sleep, the kids with their parents and the control group had gotten much more anxious, but anxiety in the sedated group didn't go up much at all.

Some conclusions are that parents' anxieties about the surgery can be transmitted to the child and make them even more worried about the experience. The sedative used in the study had the effect of causing some amnesia about the surgery so that the child's memory about the process are hazy.

One good idea is to ask your hospital if they give tours before the operation. Five-year-old Elizabeth Goldstein took one a few weeks ago before her tonsillectomy.

"I think she was afraid of the hospital and now she sees there are cheery colors everywhere and people have been friendly to her," her mother, Deborah Goldstein, says.

Elizabeth was allowed to try hospital beds, try on breathing masks and surgical hats, and learn how to use a nurse's call button.

"The goal of the program really is to desensitize the children to the hospital, to show them actually the medical equipment that they'll see when they come for surgery," says Kristal Neal, a child health expert.

Certain books now available can also help children dealing with illness, says Dr. Senay. Many of the stories are written in easy and simple to understand language and tend to feature other children or animated characters with the same health conditions. One titled, The Lion Who Had Asthma helps explain what happens during an asthma attack so that it's not so scary when it happens to the child.

Another book, The Rabbit With Epilepsy which explains in very calm terms what epilepsy is and how it can easily be treated. In the story of Even Little Kids Get Diabetes, a little girl shares her experiences of livinwith the disease and learning the importance of eating the right foods and taking her insulin every day. Many of the books let kids know that they are not alone.

In No Nuts For Me, a little boy has an allergy to nuts while his friend is allergic to fish. Some books help kids understand diseases they don't have, such as, Alex, The Kid With AIDS.

In addition to books and tours, it's important that parents tell their children the truth about their illness or surgery, Dr. Senay says. If they know what to expect, they won't be kept in the dark, fearing the worst.

Reported By Dr. Emily Senay

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