A New Way To Detect Pain In Newborns

Researchers are using brain scans to determine if babies are in pain.
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A New Way To Detect Pain In Newborns

It's no secret that babies cry — a lot. And that makes it hard for doctors to tell if a newborn is in pain during simple procedures like blood tests. But a new method might better show just how much discomfort a baby is in.

Researchers have developed a way to determine babies' pain levels by measuring their brain activity. They say they hope it will be more reliable than current methods.

Right now, pediatricians rely on facial expressions, body movements and changes in temperature and heart rate, to tell if a baby is in pain. They then compare their observations to a pain scale to assess how much discomfort the baby is experiencing.

But these indicators aren't always reliable and can have other causes, such as illness or reactions to certain medications.

"There's a fundamental problem with some of these measures because they're not very sensitive, and they're the kinds of things a baby would do anyway," said Rebeccah Slater, associate professor at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study.

The new method could serve as a better indicator of whether a baby is in pain and even be used to test new baby-specific pain treatments.

"Now that we've applied these measures, we're hoping that they'll be able to be used to better understand the development of pain in infancy and also to improve treatment," Slater said.