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Responses to pain in school-aged children with experience in a neonatal intensive care unit: Cognitive aspects and maternal influences

Authors

  • Johanna Hohmeister,

    1. Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany
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  • Süha Demirakça,

    1. Children's Hospital, Department of Clinical Medicine Mannheim, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, Germany
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  • Katrin Zohsel,

    1. Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany
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  • Herta Flor,

    1. Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany
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  • Christiane Hermann

    1. Department of Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany
    2. Department of Clinical Psychology, Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Otto-Behaghel-Str. 10F, D-35394 Giessen, Germany
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    • Department of Clinical Psychology, Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Otto-Behaghel-Str. 10F, D-35394 Giessen, Germany. Tel.: +49 641 99 26080; fax: +49 641 9926099. christiane.hermann@psychol.uni-giessen.de


ABSTRACT

Previously, it was shown that school-aged (9–14yr) preterm and fullterm children with neonatal pain exposure exhibit elevated heat pain thresholds and heightened perceptual sensitization to tonic painful heat when tested under standard conditions [Hermann C, Hohmeister J, Demirakca S, Zohsel K, Flor H. Long-term alteration of pain sensitivity in school-aged children with early pain experiences. Pain 2006;125:278–85]. Here, changes in the psychosocial context of pain responses in these children, who had been hospitalized ≥7 days after birth including ≥3 days of treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), are reported. Nineteen preterm (≤31 weeks gestational age) and 20 fullterm children (≥37 weeks gestational age) with NICU experience, recruited retrospectively and selected based on strict exclusion criteria, and 20 fullterm control children participated. Preterm NICU children endorsed more pain catastrophizing as compared to controls. Mothers of preterm children, who had been more severely ill and had been hospitalized longer than fullterm NICU children, were more likely to engage in solicitous pain-related behavior. Maternal influence was also assessed by comparing heat pain thresholds and perceptual sensitization to tonic painful heat obtained in the presence versus absence (i.e. standard testing conditions) of the mother. In all three groups, maternal presence was associated with increased heat pain thresholds. Control children habituated significantly more to tonic heat when their mother was present. The NICU children showed overall significantly less habituation than the controls; there was no modulating effect of maternal presence. Especially in highly vulnerable children such as preterms, neonatal pain exposure and prolonged hospitalization may, aside from neuronal plasticity, promote maladaptive pain-related cognitions and foster parental behavior that reinforces the child's pain response.

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