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Pain for premature babies with long consequences: Infants who are born prematurely must be treated in the newborn intensive care unit. Due to the numerous examinations and therapies, premature babies are exposed to severe pain. A study has now shown that this experience later has a lasting impact on the pain sensation of those affected.
Many babies are born far too early and only with the help of intensive care medicine can they survive at all. On the other hand, the children's sense of pain is strongly influenced for many years. This is reported by researchers from the Department of Clinical Psychology at the University of Gießen.
Severe pain due to treatment in the intensive care unit for newborns
The medical procedures of diagnosis and treatment bring great pain for the children. These formative experiences are also clearly noticeable in later life. On the one hand, the small patients need a considerably longer period of time to process the bad experiences, and on the other hand, the pain experiences later make them more sensitive to pain. The increased sensitivity to pain can reach into adolescence, as the researcher Dr. Johanna Hohmeister explained. Hohmeister received the grant for pain research for the work now presented.
Study of the pain sensation of the former premature baby
In a study, the scientist examined prematurely born children between the ages of 11 and 16. All children had been treated in a newborn intensive care unit at the beginning of their lives. For comparison, the researcher also examined nine normally born children who had no early hospital experience. The researcher examined brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging, while the test subjects received light but painful heat stimuli on the skin. The children were also asked about their subjective experience of pain. The evaluations showed that the former premature babies had a significantly more intensive reaction in the brain than the comparison group even in older age. They therefore had a higher pain intensity. Also, the children with early childhood clinical experience did not get used to the pain stimuli. The comparison group, however, showed this habit of pain in the experimental setup. "Careful treatment of pain in the newborn intensive care unit is therefore very important," said Dr. Hohmeister from the Justus Liebig University Gießen.
Pain system in premature babies not yet fully developed
In children born prematurely, the pain processing system is still in the middle of the maturation process. Because of this, the researchers suspect that early experience of severe pain permanently changes the process of processing pain. Children with these experiences experience pain much more than others at a later age.
It is still unclear how doctors can counteract this negative influence. The researcher Dr. Hofmeister emphasized that science is facing a major challenge. Because it is still unclear whether pain relieving drugs work at all in babies and what possible side effects could follow on the still developing body. Medicines with morphine-like active ingredients could lead to respiratory arrest if they are overdosed or used incorrectly. Alternatively, it would be conceivable to reduce the painful medical procedures. The extent to which such measures could be implemented and whether the negative influence can be reduced at all is still unclear. This would require further studies, as the scientist explained. "We need careful pain treatment in the intensive care units for newborns," Hohmeister demands.
Researchers in other studies had also come to similar conclusions. It was also observed here that pain experienced early on is firmly stored in the pain memory. Whether the young patients need pain medication or not has been very controversial for a long time. Many physicians assumed that newborns have fewer pain reactions than adults. Now you know from the studies that this is not the case. (sb, 10/12/2010)
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