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Study Challenges Pain Relieving Effects Of Sugar

September 2, 2010

The practice of giving infants a small amount of sugar when performing invasive procedures does not reduce the amount of pain they feel, and could actually lead to brain damage, according to a new study published Wednesday in the medical journal The Lancet.

Previous studies, including a 2001 series of clinical trials performed by doctors, found that by giving one-tenth of a gram of sucrose to babies before completing a procedure such as installing an antibiotic drip or taking a blood sample would have an analgesic effect.

However, according to Guardian Health Correspondent Denis Campbell, the new study–which was funded by the Medical Research Council and completed at University College London (UCL)–discovered that previous research was “flawed” because the researchers involved “relied on the change in the baby’s facial expression upon receiving the sugar, from puckered-up to relaxed, as proof that it works.”

The UCL team, was led by Dr. Rebeccah Slater from the school’s Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology departments, simulated drawing blood samples from 59 newborns by pricking their heels with a small blade. The subjects were given either sterile water or a solution of concentrated sugar, delivered orally through a small syringe, and the researchers monitored pain activity in the brain and spine by using electrodes. They observed no noticeable difference in the two groups, according to Campbell’s September 2 report.

“The absence of evidence for an analgesic action of sucrose in this study, together with uncertainty over the long-term benefits of repeated sucrose administration, suggest that sucrose should not be used routinely for procedural pain in infants without further investigation,” Slater’s team said, according to Wednesday reports from French news agency AFP.

“Our findings indicate that sucrose is not an effective pain relief drug. This is especially important in view of the increasing evidence that pain may cause short and long-term adverse effects on infant neurodevelopment,” Slater also told Campbell. “While we remain unsure of the impact sucrose has, we suggest that it is not used routinely to relieve pain in infants without further investigation.”

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