Researchers have discovered that infants’ brains respond to pain in a similar way to adults.
18 of the 20 brain regions activated in adults experiencing pain were also active in infants, this has been found by scientists from Oxford University (UK).
Rebeccah Slater from Oxford’s paediatrics department and her team discovered that infants between one and six days old usually fell asleep when placed in the MRI scanner. Brain scans were done as a special retracting rod was placed on the bottom of their feet to create a sensation like being poked with a pencil.
Slater said on CBC: “Our study suggests that not only do babies experience pain, but they may be more sensitive to it than adults […] If we would provide pain relief for an older child undergoing a procedure, then we should look at giving pain relief to an infant.”
Before giving permission for her son Alex to take part in the study, Rachel Edwards, 33 from Oxford, felt the retracting rod and she described that as a “precise feeling of touch”.
“People know so little about how babies feel pain, you can tell they are in distress from their reaction and I was curious about why they react in the way they do,” Edwards said in a release.
Bonnie Stevens, associate chief of nursing, said that the majority of healthy, full-term infants respond to a painful stimulus such as a heel lance for blood tests or an injection.
Stevens said the study introduces important new evidence.
“However, given the complex nature of pain in infants and other nonverbal populations, we still have much to learn about all types of infant pain responses. We also need to consider the context in which the pain is experienced (e.g. age of the infants, health status, nature of the painful stimulus, presence of care provider),” Stevens said in an email.
Denise Harrison, chair in nursing care of of Children, Youth and Families Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and University of Ottawa, called the research “exciting and illuminating.”
“While we continue to explore neural pathways of pain, we need to consistently use best pain management strategies, based on years of studies, mostly using behavioural responses — such as crying, facial expressions of pain,” Harrison said in an email.
Full article here.