Premature babies are more sensitive to pain if they have had to undergo painful treatments whilst in intensive care, compared to other newborns, according to a new study carried out by scientists at London University College (UCL), England. The Medical Research Council study specified that raised pain sensitivity related to premature babies who had spent at least 40 days in hospital.

Dr Rebeccah Slater and team measured the brain activity of newborns while blood samples were being taken. They found that those who were premature and had been in hospital for a minimum of 40 days had a stronger response, compared to healthy babies of the same age who had not been hospitalized.

There was no difference in brain activity between the two groups, however, when the babies were touched in a painless way, for example, when they were gently touched on the heel. The researchers believe the sensitization of premature babies is specific to pain.

Premature babies are sometimes hospitalized for several months, and have to undergo various different diagnostic tests.

Dr. Slater wrote that pre-term babies need better pain relief.

Slater said “Our ability to measures brain responses to painful events will lead to a better and more informed approach to the administration of analgesia, and enable us to define optimal ways of providing pain relief in this vulnerable population.”

“Premature infants display increased noxious-evoked neuronal activity in the brain compared to healthy age-matched term-born infants”
Rebeccah Slater, Lorenzo Fabrizi, Alan Worley, Judith Meek, Stewart Boyd and Maria Fitzgerald
Neuroimage
doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.04.253
Click here to view abstract online

Written by Christian Nordqvist