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Keywords:

  • neonates;
  • neurological impairment;
  • nurses;
  • pain indicators;
  • researchers

Abstract

Title. Indicators of pain in neonates at risk for neurological impairment.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to compare the importance and usefulness ratings of physiological and behavioural indicators of pain in neonates at risk for neurological impairment by nurse clinicians and pain researchers.

Background.  Neonates at risk for neurological impairment have not been systematically included in neonatal pain measure development and how clinicians and researchers view pain indicators in these infants is unknown.

Methods.  Data triangulation was undertaken in three Canadian Neonatal Intensive Care Units using data from: (a) 149 neonates at high, moderate and low risk for neurological impairment, (b) 95 nurse clinicians from the three units where infant data were collected and (c) 14 international pain researchers. Thirteen indicators were assessed following heel lance in neonates and 39 indicators generated from nurse clinicians and pain researchers were assessed for importance and accuracy. Data were collected between 2004 and 2005.

Results.  Across risk groups, indicators with the highest accuracy for discriminating ‘pain’ among neonates were: brow bulge (77–83%), eye squeeze (75–84%), nasolabial furrow (79–81%), and total facial expression (78–83%). Correlations between nurse ratings and neonatal accuracy scores ranged from moderate to none (mild risk r = 0·52, P = 0·07; moderate r = 0·43, P = 0·15; high r = −0·12, P = 0·69). Researchers demonstrated a better understanding of the importance of pain indicators (mild risk, r = 0·91, P < 0·001; moderate 0·85, P < 0·001; 0·0002; high r = 0·64, P = 0·019) than nurse clinicians.

Conclusion/Discussion.  Facial actions were rated as the most important indicators of neonatal pain. However, as neurological impairment risk increased, physiological indicators were rated more important by nurse clinicians and pain researchers, opposite to pain indicators demonstrated by neonates.