Objective: The goal was to review published studies of analgesic effects of sweet solutions, to ascertain areas with sufficient evidence of effectiveness and areas of uncertainty.
Methods: Databases searched included Medline, Embase, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature database, and PsycINFO, using the terms pain*, infant*, neonat*, newborn*, sucrose, glucose, and alternative sugars. Publications were sorted according to type, year, painful procedure studied, placebo/no-treatment groups, population studied, and country of publication.
Results: A total of 298 relevant unique publications involving human infants were identified; 125 (42%) were primary research studies, of which 116 (93%) were randomized controlled trials. Healthy preterm or term newborns were included in 82 studies (65%), and sick or very low birth weight infants were included in 22 (18%). Most studies included single episodes of painful procedures, with only 3 (2%) conducted over long periods. Procedures investigated most frequently were heel lance (49%), venipuncture (14%), and intramuscular injection (14%). Placebo or no-treatment groups were included in 111 studies (89%); in 103 (93%) of those studies, sweet solutions reduced behavioral responses, compared with placebo/ no treatment.
Conclusion: Clinical equipoise relating to analgesic effects of sweet solutions no longer exists for single episodes of procedures for healthy preterm and term newborn infants. Uncertainties include outcomes after prolonged use of sweet solutions, concomitant use of other analgesics, and effectiveness beyond the newborn period. Future research should focus on addressing these knowledge and research gaps.