Providing optimal pain relief is a challenging task when caring for premature infants. The aim of this study was to compare the long-term cognitive, motor, and behavioral outcomes of preterm infants before and after the implementation of a pain and sedation protocol. In addition, we investigated whether the increased opiate administration resulting after the implementation process had an impact on these outcomes.
Cognitive outcomes were evaluated using the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (KABC), neuromotor examinations were based on Amiel-Tison, and behavioral outcomes were assessed using the parent-reported Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).
One hundred extremely preterm infants were included in the study (control group, n = 53; intervention group, n = 47). No significant differences in cognitive and motor outcomes were found at preschool age. However, every increase in the cumulative opiate exposure for each 100 mg/kg was weakly significantly associated with a higher risk for autism spectrum features (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 1.822, 95% confidence interval (CI) [1.231-2.697]; P = 0.03) and withdrawn behavior (aOR = 1.822, 95% CI [1.231-2.697]; P = 0.03) at preschool age.
Increased neonatal cumulative opiate exposure did not alter cognitive and motor outcomes but may represent a risk factor for autism spectrum and withdrawn behavior at preschool age.
The implementation of a protocol for the management of pain and sedation in preterm infants resulted in increased cumulative opiate exposure.Our study adds further evidence that neonatal opiate exposure does not alter cognitive and motor outcomes but may yield a potential risk factor for autism spectrum disorders and withdrawn behavior at preschool age.A vigilant use of opiates is recommended.Further studies are needed looking for novel pain management strategies and drugs providing optimal pain relief with minimal neurotoxicity.