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J Pain. 2012 Jul;13(7):656-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.04.001. Epub 2012 May 24.

Sensitization to acute procedural pain in pediatric sickle cell disease: modulation by painful vaso-occlusive episodes, age, and endothelin-1.

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Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA.


The impact of pain early in life is a salient issue for sickle cell disease (SCD), a genetic condition characterized by painful vaso-occlusive episodes (VOEs) that can begin in the first year of life and persist into adulthood. This study examined the effects of age and pain history (age of onset and frequency of recent VOEs) on acute procedural pain in children with SCD. Endothelin-1, a vaso-active peptide released during VOEs and acute tissue injury, and its precursor, Big Endothelin, were explored as markers of pain sensitization and vaso-occlusion. Sixty-one children with SCD (ages 2 to 18) underwent venipuncture at routine health visits. Procedural pain was assessed via child and caregiver reports and observational distress. Pain history was assessed using retrospective chart review. Three primary results were found: 1) younger age was associated with greater procedural pain across pain outcomes; 2) higher frequency of VOEs was associated with greater procedural pain based on observational distress (regardless of age); and 3) age was found to moderate the relationship between VOEs and procedural pain for child-reported pain and observational distress for children 5 years of age and older. Associations between the endothelin variables and pain prior to venipuncture were also observed.


For children with SCD, the child's age and recent pain history should be considered in procedural pain management. The endothelin system may be involved in preprocedure pain, but additional research is needed to understand the role of endothelins in pain sensitization.

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