American Academy of Pediatrics – Section on Surgery

Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question

Released November 4, 2019; Last reviewed 2022

  1. 1

    Avoid the routine use of whole-body computed tomography (CT) scanning (pan-scanning) in pediatric trauma patients.

    While CT scans can be a helpful adjunct to diagnosing traumatic injuries, their usage should be tailored to the mechanism of injury and clinical findings. Radiation from CT scans places children at a low, but real risk of developing potentially fatal malignancies later in life. Decision rules have been developed to guide the judicious use of CT scans for evaluating traumatic head, cervical spine, chest, and abdominal/pelvic injuries. Chest CTs, in particular, have limited value in the evaluation of pediatric blunt trauma patients as few findings require specific treatments that change management. Adherence to published guidelines helps reduce unnecessary scans and reduce costs while minimizing significant missed injuries.

  2. 2

    Avoid using computed tomography (CT scan) as the first-line imaging modality in the evaluation of suspected appendicitis in children. Ultrasound should be done first with a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) considered in equivocal cases.

    Although CT is the most accurate radiologic modality for the evaluation of appendicitis, ultrasound should be the preferred initial evaluation in children. This modality is cost effective, avoids radiation exposure, and has excellent accuracy, with a reported sensitivity and specificity of 94 percent in experienced hands. When the ultrasound is equivocal, decision guidelines based on clinical findings as well as radiologic findings may assist in determining the need for cross-sectional imaging. Other options to consider prior to CT scan may include an evaluation by a surgeon, observation with serial exams, repeat ultrasound after a period of observation, and MRI, which has been shown to have similar diagnostic accuracy as CT.

  3. 3

    Avoid performing antireflux operations (fundoplications) during gastrostomy insertion in most children who are otherwise growing and thriving with gastric feedings.


    There is significant hospital-related variation in rates of concurrent fundoplication at time of gastrostomy placement.1 Despite recommendations that anti-reflux surgery should be considered only for children who have persistent symptoms despite medical management or are unable to be weaned from medical therapy, many patients undergo surgery without a trial of medical therapy.2

    This is especially true in children with cardiac, pulmonary and neurologic comorbidities, for whom some surgeons may recommend prophylactic fundoplication. There are insufficient data to support the concept of fundoplication in the absence of reflux, regardless of patient comorbidities. In fact, neurologically impaired patients are at higher risk for post-operative complications and/or fundoplication failure,3-5 and fundoplication does not lead to reduction in reflux-related admissions compared to gastrostomy alone.6 Definitive evidence supporting the effectiveness of fundoplication in children is lacking.7  Expert opinion-based guidelines2 state that fundoplication can be considered in infants and children with GERD who also meet any of the following criteria: 1) life threatening complications (e.g., cardiorespiratory failure) of GERD after failure of optimal medical treatment, 2) symptoms refractory to optimal therapy, 3) chronic conditions (i.e. neurologically impaired, cystic fibrosis) with a significant risk of GERD-related complications, 4) the need for chronic pharmacotherapy for control of signs and/or symptoms of GERD.

  4. 4

    Avoid referring most children with umbilical hernias to a pediatric surgeon until around age 4-5 years.

    Patients with umbilical hernias may safely be observed until at least age 4 years; at that point pediatric surgical consultation is recommended to discuss surgical repair option. Special consideration for earlier consultation can be given in cases of parental concern.

    Umbilical hernias, resulting from failure of complete closure of the umbilical ring after birth, affect up to 25% of newborns. Unlike inguinal hernias, or umbilical hernias in adults, a majority of newborn umbilical hernias will close spontaneously – about 85% closure rate by age 5 years. Larger umbilical hernias – vaguely defined as those over 1.5 cm in diameter – have a lower likelihood of spontaneous closure. Complications of umbilical hernia, such as incarceration (where omentum or bowel is “stuck” in the hernia sac, estimated at 0.2-4.5%) or strangulation (where omentum or bowel is incarcerated and proceeds to suffer ischemic damage, estimated at less than 0.8%) are very rare; thus the risk/benefit ratio in surgical closure of umbilical hernias strongly favors observation. Even markedly large or protuberant umbilical hernias (such as a proboscis, or elephant-trunk, type hernia) may undergo spontaneous closure and are not clearly associated with an increased risk of complications when not surgically closed. Non-operative closure techniques such as umbilical strapping are generally ineffective, can lead to skin breakdown, and should be avoided.

    Complications following umbilical hernia repair in children are rare and may include infection (estimated at less than 1%) and recurrence (estimates ranging from 0.27%-2.44%). Recurrence rates appear to be higher in children repaired at an early age (less than 4 years).

  5. 5

    Reduce post-operative opioid requirements in pediatric patients by administering acetaminophen and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications in the perioperative period.


    Multi-modal analgesia is recommended in the management of children for their perioperative pain. Significant decreases in opioid consumption can be achieved with the concurrent use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and/or acetaminophen in infants and children undergoing surgery of moderate or major severity, especially within the first twenty-four hours following surgery. The use of NSAIDs during the first 24-hours of post-operative care also reduced the incidence of nausea and vomiting.

    In addition to decreasing the possibility of narcotic dependence, avoidance of opioids confers added benefits of reducing the incidence of post-operative nausea and constipation and aiding in early ambulation.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. The AAP Section on Surgery was founded in 1948 for the primary purpose of providing state-of-the-art techniques and education for pediatric surgeons. The Section includes over 600 pediatric surgeons and collaborates with organizations such as the American Pediatric Surgical Association, the Advisory Council on Pediatric Surgery of the American College of Surgeons, the United Network for Organ Sharing, and the World Federation of Associations of Pediatric Surgery.

For more information, visit

How This List Was Created

Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Surgery Subcommittee on Education and Delivery of Surgical Care submitted the top 5 topics for Choosing Wisely items based on a review of the literature and expert opinion. The items were refined, ranked and approved by the Section on Surgery leadership. The list was then reviewed and approved by more than a dozen relevant AAP Committees, Councils and Sections. The AAP Executive Committee granted final approval of the list.

AAP’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at


  1. Brenner DJ, Hall EJ. Computed tomography – an increasing source of radiation exposure. N Engl J Med. 2007; 357:2277-2284.

    Pearce MS, Salotti JA, et al. Radiation exposure from CT scans in childhood and subsequent risk of leukaemia and brain tumours: A retrospective cohort study. Lancet [Internet] 2012 Aug 4;380(9840):499–505.

    Kuppermann N, Holmes JF et al. Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN). Identification of children at very low-risk of clinically-important brain injuries after head trauma: A prospective cohort study. Lancet [Internet]. 2009 Oct;374(9696):1160–1170.

    Hoffman JR, Mower WR, et al. Validity of a set of clinical criteria to rule out injury to the cervical spine in patients with blunt trauma. National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study Group. N Engl J Med. 2000 Jul 13;343(2):94-99.

    Leonard JC. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013 Oct;60(5):1123-1137.

    Stephens CQ, Boulos MC, et al. Limiting thoracic CT: a rule for use during initial pediatric trauma evaluation. J Pediatr Surg. 2017 Dec;52(12):2031-2037.

    Streck CJ, Vogel AM, et al.; Pediatric Surgery Research Collaborative. Identifying children at very low risk for blunt intra-abdominal injury in whom CT of the abdomen can be avoided safely. J Am Coll Surg. 2017 Apr;224(4):449-458.

  2. Doria AS, Moineddin R, et al. US or CT for diagnosis of appendicitis in children? A meta-analysis. Radiology. 2006; 241:83-94.

    Krishnamoorthi R, Ramarajan N, et al. Effectiveness of a staged US and CT protocol for the diagnosis of pediatric appendicitis: reducing radiation exposure in the age of ALARA. Radiology. 2011; 259:231-239.

    Smith MP, Katz DS, et al. Expert Panel on Gastrointestinal Imaging. ACR Appropriateness Criteria Right Lower Quadrant Pain-Suspected Appendicitis. Ultrasound Q. 2015 June;31(2):85-91.

    Samuel M. Pediatric Appendicitis Score. J Ped Surg. 2002;37(6):877-881.

    Nielsen JW, Boomer L, et al. Reducing computed tomography scans for appendicitis by introduction of a standardized and validated ultrasonography report template. J Pediatr Surg. 2015; 50: 144–148.

    Aspelund G, Fingeret A, et al. Ultrasonography/MRI versus CT for diagnosing appendicitis. Pediatrics. 2014 Apr;133(4):586-593.

  3. Goldin AB, Garrison M, Christakis D. Variations between hospitals in antireflux procedures in children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2009;163(7):658-663.

    Rosen R, Vandenplas Y, et al. Pediatric Gastroesophageal Reflux Clinical Practice Guidelines: Joint Recommendations of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) and the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN). Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2018. March 66(3):516-554

    Albanese CT, Towbin RB, et al.. Percutaneous gastrojejunostomy versus Nissen fundoplication for enteral feeding of the neurologically impaired child with gastroesophageal reflux. The Journal of Pediatrics. 1993;123(3):371-375.

    Fonkalsrud EW, Ashcraft KW, et al. Surgical treatment of gastroesophageal reflux in children: a combined hospital study of 7467 patients. Pediatrics. 1998;101(3 Pt 1):419-422.

    Smith CD, Othersen HB, Jr., et al. Nissen fundoplication in children with profound neurologic disability. High risks and unmet goals. Annals of Surgery. 1992;215(6):654-658; discussion 658-659.

    Barnhart DC, Hall M, et al. Effectiveness of fundoplication at the time of gastrostomy in infants with neurological impairment. JAMA Pediatrics. 2013;167(10):911-918.

    Jancelewicz T, Lopez ME, et al. Surgical management of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children: A systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Surgery. 2017;52(8):1228-1238.

  4. Zens T, Nichol PF, et al. Management of asymptomatic pediatric umbilical hernias: A systematic review. J Pediatr Surg 2017;52:1723-1731.

    Chirdan LB, Uba AF, Kidmas AT. Incarcerated umbilical hernia in children. Eur J Pediatr Surg. 2006 Feb;16(1):45-48.

    Yanagisawa S, Kato M, et al. Reappraisal of adhesive strapping as treatment for infantile umbilical hernia. Pediatr Int. 2016 May;58(5):363-368

    Abdulhai SA, Glenn IC, Ponsky TA. Incarcerated pediatric hernias. Surg Clin North Am. 2017 Feb;97(1):129-145.

    Brown RA, Numanoglu A, Rode H. Complicated umbilical hernia in childhood. S Afr J Surg. 2006 Nov;44(4):136-137.

    Ireland A, Gollow I, Gera P. Low risk, but not no risk, of umbilical hernia complications requiring acute surgery in childhood. J Paediatr Child Health. 2014 Apr;50(4):291-293

  5. Wong I, St John-Green C, Walker SM. Opioid-sparing effects of perioperative paracetamol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in children. Pediatric Anesthesia 23 (2013) 475-495.

    Michelet D, Andreu-Gallien J, et al. A meta-analysis of use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pediatric postoperative pain.  Anesthesia Analgesia 114 (2012) 393-406.

    Brasher C, Gafsous B, et al. Postoperative pain management in children and infants: An update. Pediatric Drugs 16 (2014) 129-140.

    Ceelie I, de Wildt SN, et al. Effect of intravenous paracetamol on postoperative morphine requirements in neonates and infants undergoing major noncardiac surgery. JAMA 309 (2013) 149-154.