Persistent pain in neonates: challenges in assessment without the aid of a clinical tool

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Evaluation of comfort and pain in neonates is important for management. Specific signs of persistent pain in neonates remain undefined; few validated clinical tools assess persistent pain. We sought to determine (i) difficulty perceived by staff and parents in assessing comfort/persistent pain in babies, (ii) strategies employed when no clinical tool is used and (iii) variation between clinicians’ assessments.


Parent and staff questionnaires addressed difficulty in assessing pain/comfort in neonates and strategies used in making assessments.


A total of 47 of 50 (94%) parents and 83 of 91 (91%) staff participated; 50% of staff reported it was moderately/very difficult to assess persistent pain, and 13% very easy; 75% of parents found it moderately/very easy and 23% difficult to assess their baby's comfort; 15% of parents thought staff found pain assessment difficult. Staff described 94 different factors indicative of comfort and 139 factors of persistent pain. Terminology differed widely and was often nonspecific; 67% of staff described forming a ‘general impression’.


Pain assessment is challenging for staff. Most parents feel confident in assessing their babies’ comfort, but may overestimate the ease with which staff can do so. Indicators of persistent pain/comfort are poorly defined; staff use differing, subjective assessments, which may complicate communication between carers.

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