Babies’ Pain Sensitivity Can Be Increase By Early Life Infections

Babies’ Pain Sensitivity Can Be Increase By Early Life Infections
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Scientists from the Department of Pediatrics at Oxford University have made a discovery that an infection may heighten a baby’s sensitivity to pain, and this heightened sensitivity may persist even after the virus has cleared up.

In a recent study that was just published in Nature Communications, scientists examined the blood of 65 newborn infants who had previously been subjected to the conventional heel-prick blood test to check for indications of a possible infection. When the results of a baby’s blood test indicated that the infant could have an infection that needed more antibiotic treatment, the scientists continued to check for symptoms of pain or discomfort in the infant.

Immune function and sensitivity to pain are closely related, but the association between early life inflammation and sensory nervous system development is poorly understood—especially in humans. Here, in term-born infants, we measure brain activity and reflex withdrawal activity (using EEG and EMG) and behavioural and physiological activity (using the PIPP-R score) to assess the impact of suspected early-onset neonatal infection on tactile- and noxious-evoked responses.

They observed that infants who had laboratory signs of inflammation linked with infection (increased C-Reactive Protein, or CRP levels in blood) demonstrated a greater sensitivity to pain than newborns who did not have these markers. In order to quantify this, variations in each infant’s brain activity, leg reflex withdrawal activity, facial expression, and heart rate were recorded in response to the clinically mandated heel prick blood test.

These newborns are also highly sensitive to touching, which is compatible with clinical observations that illnesses may make babies more irritated. Additionally, these babies had a higher risk of developing respiratory infections. Although behavioral indications of discomfort, such as facial grimacing, did not seem to be enhanced by the existence of inflammation, this may be due to the fact that combating an infection may lead newborns to become more sluggish and exhausted. This research also reveals that enhanced pain sensitivity may be sustained after the infection has been treated, even until adulthood.


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Anna Daniels

Anna is an avid blogger with an educational background in medicine and mental health. She is a generalist with many other interests including nutrition, women's health, astronomy and photography. In her free time from work and writing, Anna enjoys nature walks, reading, and listening to jazz and classical music.

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