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Pain In Infancy May Predispose Infants To Anxiety Later In Life

Update Date: Oct 31, 2013 10:23 AM EDT

Pain in infancy due to premature birth treatments may increase an infant's chance of developing anxiety later on in life according to a new study.

"While a dampened response to painful and stressful situations may seem advantageous at first, the ability to respond appropriately to a potentially harmful stimulus is necessary in the long term," Dr. Anne Murphy, associate director of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University, said in a news release. "The fact that less than 35 percent of infants undergoing painful and invasive procedures receive any sort of pre- or post-operative pain relief needs to be re-evaluated in order to reduce physical and mental health complications associated with preterm birth."

According to GSU, researchers said about 12 percent of live births in the U.S. are premature.

"These infants often spend an average of 25 days in neonatal intensive care, where they endure 10-to-18 painful and inflammatory procedures each day, including insertion of feeding tubes and intravenous lines, intubation and repeated heel lance," reports GSU. "Despite evidence that pain and stress circuitry in the brain are established and functional in preterm infants, about 65 percent of these procedures are performed without benefit of analgesia."

Researchers wanted to examine early life pain in rat pups.

For the study researchers observed if one painful inflammatory procedure performed on both male and female rat pups on the day they were born changed brain receptors known to affect stress, anxiety and pain in adults. 

Researchers found that with the procedure changes in the brain were seen which effected how the pups responded to stress. 

"Alterations in how these receptors function have also been associated with mood disorders," reports GSU. 

The findings are published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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