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Clin J Pain. 2001 Dec;17(4):350-8.

Relations between behavioral and cardiac autonomic reactivity to acute pain in preterm neonates.

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Center for Community Health and Health Evaluation Research, British Columbia Research Institute For Children's and Women's Health, Vancouver, Canada.



The purpose of this study was to assess relations and concordance between behavioral and physiologic reactivity to pain in preterm neonates at 32 weeks postconceptional age as a function of gestational age at birth.


Level III neonatal intensive care unit.


The study group comprised 136 preterm neonates (mean [range] birthweight, 1,020 g [445-1,500 g]: gestational age at birth, 28 weeks [23-32 weeks]) separated into three groups according to gestational age at birth as follows: 23 to 26 weeks (n = 48), 27 to 29 weeks (n = 52), and 30 to 32 weeks (n = 36).


Reactivity to routine blood collection at 32 weeks postconceptional age was assessed using bedside-recorded behavioral and autonomic measures. Coders who were blinded to the study design scored behavioral responses (facial activity using the Neonatal Facial Coding System, sleep/waking state, and finger splay). Autonomic reactivity was assessed by change in heart rate and spectral analysis of heart rate variability (change in low-frequency and high-frequency power, and the ratio of low-frequency to high-frequency power during blood collection).


Facial activity and state correlated moderately with change in heart rate across gestational age groups (r = 0.41-0.62). Facial activity and state did not correlate significantly with change in low-frequency and high-frequency power, or the ratio of low-frequency to high-frequency power (r = 0.00-0.31). Finger splay did not correlate with any autonomic recording (r = 0.03-0.41). Concordance between established biobehavioral measures of pain revealed individual differences. Although some neonates showed high behavioral but low physiologic reactivity, other neonates displayed the opposite reaction; however, the majority displayed concordant reactions.


The study findings confirm the value of measuring domains independently, especially in neonates born at a very young gestational age.

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