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Premature babies have altered sensory responses in later life
Date:12/22/2008

Premature infants who need intensive care or surgery are less sensitive to thermal (hot and cold) sensations later in life, according to research conducted at UCL (University College London). The study, published in the journal Pain, suggests that pain and injury related to major medical interventions in early development may alter how children respond to painful stimuli much later in life.

In the study, 43 eleven-year-old children born at less than 26 weeks of gestation (14 weeks premature) who are being followed up by the EPICure study group, were tested for their responses to different sensations temperature and light touch using quantitative sensory testing. Compared to a group of children who had been born at full term, the premature children were less sensitive to temperature (cool, cold, warm and hot) but not to light touch, and this was most marked in those who had also undergone a surgical operation as a baby. The researchers also found a more marked decrease in sensitivity to temperature and to touch close to scars relating to major chest surgery, again suggesting that the severity of injury in early life influences the degree of sensory change. A questionnaire survey showed that the children's everyday pain experiences were similar, but there were some minor differences between the two groups in the way children coped with pain.

Dr Suellen Walker, UCL Institute of Child Health, says: "Our study shows that babies who are born premature and need intensive care or surgery develop long-term changes in their responses to hot and cold sensations. As the same nerve fibres transmit temperature and pain, changes in thermal sensitivity may also be associated with altered responses to pain in later life. In our laboratory studies, we have also shown that surgical incisions in early life reduce sensitivity to temperature and pressure, and alter pain responses to future surgery. These effects appear to be specific to early life, as s
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Contact: Ruth Metcalfe
r.metcalfe@gmail.com
44-020-767-99739
University College London
Source:Eurekalert

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