There was a time when a belief was widely held that premature neonates did not perceive pain. That, of course, has been refuted but measurements of neonate pain tend to rely on inexact measures, such as alertness and ability to react expressively to pain sensations. Researchers at Loma Linda University reported in The Journal of Pain that there is a significant relationship between procedural pain and detectable oxidative stress in neonates.
Previous studies have shown an approach involving measurement of systemic biochemical reactions to pain offers the benefit of providing an objective method for measuring pain in premature neonates. Exposure to painful procedures often results in reductions in oxygen saturations and tachycardia, but few studies have quantified the effects of increased pain oxygen consumption. No studies have examined the relationship between pain scores that reflect behavioral and physiological markers of pain and plasma markers of ATP utilization and oxidative stress.
In this study, 80 preterm neonates were evaluated. In about half, tape was taken off the skin following removal of catheters, and they were evaluated for oxidative stress by measuring uric acid and malondialdehyde (MDA) concentration in plasma before and after the procedure. These subjects were compared with a control group not experiencing tape removal. Pain scores were assessed using the Premature Infant Pain Profile. The data showed there was a significant relationship between procedural pain and MDA, which is a well accepted marker of oxidative stress.
There were increases in MDA in preterm neonates exposed to the single painful procedure and not in the control group. Since premature neonates undergo several painful procedures a day, the researchers concluded that if exposure to multiple painful procedures is shown to contribute to oxidative stress, biochemical markers might be useful in evaluating mechanism-based interventions that could decrease adverse effects of painful procedures.
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