Knowing if a baby suffers acute pain during treatment is complicated , since as they do not verbalize it is difficult to calculate the degree of discomfort they are suffering. Now, thanks to a non-invasive method developed by British researchers, it will be possible to avoid causing them excessive discomfort during medical treatments. An electrode placed on the baby’s scalp is enough to measure the degree of pain . The method, published in Science Translational Medicine , is not definitive but makes it easier for scientists to diagnose discomfort in babies. Normally, since babies do not speak, doctors tend to overlook their pain . To determine it they are based on their degree of crying and facial gestures , but these signs do not always reflect reality, because babies also cry and make faces in other circumstances, such as when they are hungry, says one of the study authors, Rebeccah Slater of the University of Oxford. Instead, by measuring brain activity it is more possible to make a more precise and objective calculation.
Slater and his colleagues measured the brain activity of 18 newborns between 2 and 5 days old. Using an electrode located on the scalp, they recorded electroencephalograms (EEGs) of the activity of the nerve cells while they applied a small blow to them and they saw that the electrode called Cz detected a neural peak between 400 and 700 milliseconds after the moment of pain, something That would not happen if they were not harmed. On average, babies born prematurely at 34-36 weeks gestation showed similar responses to painful stimuli.
In addition, the researchers analyzed the EEG results in a pilot study of 18 infants undergoing routine blood testing, which requires the use of a needle, and subsequently validated their results in four additional studies involving 72 babies in total.
The EEG imprint was also defining in babies born prematurely, but distinct from changes in brain activity associated with non-painful stimuli such as flashing lights, soft touches, or loud noises. In addition, the researchers found that topical anesthetics reduced the magnitude of the brain scan signal .
Overall, the test demonstrated a sensitivity of 64% with a specificity of 65% for pain associated with heel stick and a sensitivity of 57% with a specificity of 68% for a lower intensity stimulus. With further studies, the authors believe that this method could be effective in testing analgesic efficacy in children of preverbal age.
Credit: DEPARTMENT OF PAEDIATRICS, MEDICAL SCIENCES DIVISION, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD