Doctors could soon know more about easing premature infants’ pain thanks to a new study underway at Sparrow Hospital. Dr. Carolyn Herrington, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Wayne State University piloted the study in May and is comparing new stress detector equipment to the current methods of measuring pain in premature infants. Her hopes are that the stress detector equipment will prove to be quicker and more effective at indicating pain in infants. If the detector equipment does prove to be more efficient in measuring pain, doctors would be able to provide effective pain management for premature babies faster than they could before.
So far, the stress detector equipment has been tested several times in Europe, but Dr. Herrington’s study marks only the second time the equipment has been tested in the U.S. The study includes infants that range in age from 28 weeks to 32 weeks of gestation, meaning they are one to two months premature. Measuring and managing pain in premature infants is particularly important in preventing future learning disabilities or social problems.
Prior studies indicate that the pain that premature infants experience in the first years of life can lead to long term neurological developmental setbacks that manifest as learning disabilities or less ability to socialize in later childhood. Currently, the only method of determining pain in premature infants is a saliva test to measure for cortisol, a hormone released during times of stress. While salivary tests can reveal the infants’ pain, it takes time to get the results back from the laboratory—meaning more time that the babies must suffer. The stress detector, on the other hand, can provide instant results by working similar to a lie detector test. Specifically, when humans are under stress the brain rapidly releases sweat to the palms of the hands and bottom of the feet. The stress detector has electrodes that are able to read the response when attached to the bottom of an infant’s foot and can give an automatic graphic readout. By comparing the change in cortisol levels over time, doctors and the researchers can tell if an infant is experiencing more or less pain and a given moment and provide appropriate therapy to relieve it.