The effects of early pain experience in neonates on pain responses in infancy and childhood.
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Iatrogenic pain is commonplace in newborn infants yet we know very little about its long-term effects. This article reviews the evidence for and against the suggestion that painful procedures experienced in the perinatal period influence subsequent pain responses in infancy or in childhood. The evidence suggests that early experiences with pain are associated with altered pain responses later in infancy. The direction of the altered response depends, in part, on the infant's developmental stage (full-term vs preterm), and his or her cumulative experience with pain. Preterm infants that are hospitalized as neonates and subjected to painful procedures appear to have a dampened response to painful procedures later in infancy. Full-term neonates exposed to extreme stress during delivery, or to a surgical procedure, react to later noxious procedures with heightened behavioral responsiveness. Studies in which analgesic agents (local anesthetics or opioids) have been administered prior to noxious procedures demonstrate less procedural pain and a reduction in the magnitude of long-term changes in pain behaviors. The precise determinants of these changes, their extent, and their permanence are not known but they appear to involve noxious stimulus-induced peripheral and central sensitization, as well as classical conditioning.