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Premature infants who need intensive care or surgery are less sensitive to hot and cold sensations later in life, according to a study. The research conducted by University College London (UCL) 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 11-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, said an UCL release. A 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. Suellen Walker of the UCL Institute of Child Health said: “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.”