Potentially significant numbers of infants hospitalized in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) and Pediatric Intensive Care Units (PICUs) experience chronic pain. However, the phenomenon of chronic pain in infancy has neither been defined nor described adequately by researchers. To stimulate and focus further work in the area, the purpose of this study was to explore expert opinions on definitional and assessment parameters of infant chronic pain. Forty-five health care professionals, with a median of 17 years of clinical experience, were recruited from 4 tertiary-level, university-affiliated institutions. Individual (n=24) and group (n=21) interviews were conducted by trained interviewers. Qualitative data were analyzed using a standard descriptive method. Health care professionals were able to offer preliminary definitions of chronic pain in infants. The most contentious definitional issue was whether iatrogenically prolonged pain (pain induced and maintained by medical procedures) should be considered chronic pain. Possible indicators for chronic pain included inability to settle, social withdrawal, constant grimacing, tense body, hypo- or hyper-reactions to acute pain, and dysregulated sleep or feeding patterns. These indicators differed significantly from those traditionally used to measure acute pain.
Perspective: Despite infants' established capacity to physiologically experience chronic pain, no current definitions exist that are wholly applicable to infancy. By exploring the definitional parameters and potential assessment cues of infant chronic pain, this study provides a foundation for improving pain measurement and management in infants with chronic pain.