Brain scan research shows that babies feel pain much like adults do

Baby pain

The University of Oxford reports that a new brain scan study has discovered that when exposed to similar painful stimulus, the brains of babies ‘light up’ in a very similar way to adults. It suggests that babies experience pain much like adults.

A section of the news article to be found on the Oxford University website reads as follows:

“The study looked at 10 healthy infants aged between one and six days old and 10 healthy adults aged 23-36 years. Infants were recruited from the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and adult volunteers were Oxford University staff or students.

During the research babies, accompanied by parents and clinical staff, were placed in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner where they usually fell asleep. MRI scans were then taken of the babies’ brains as they were ‘poked’ on the bottom of their feet with a special retracting rod creating a sensation ‘like being poked with a pencil’ – mild enough that it did not wake them up. These scans were then compared with brain scans of adults exposed to the same pain stimulus.

The researchers found that 18 of the 20 brain regions active in adults experiencing pain were active in babies. Scans also showed that babies’ brains had the same response to a weak ‘poke’ (of force 128mN) as adults did to a stimulus four times as strong (512mN). The findings suggest that not only do babies experience pain much like adults but that they also have a much lower pain threshold.”

Asked for comment Dr Julia Ambler of Umduduzi, Hospice Care for Children in Durban, South Africa said: “If health professionals allow this important research to resonate, to hit that chord that leaves us feeling guilty about the way we have chosen to ignore pain in babies, perhaps a real change in attitude can take place and pain management in this vulnerable group will improve.”

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and is reported in the journal eLife.

Read the full article here.

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