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About Sickkids
About SickKids

March 2, 2009

Sugar water: The sweet solution for pain relief in babies that lasts

TORONTO – Something as simple as a diaper change after a blood test can be painful for infants. But according to a new study, an ingredient found in your kitchen cupboard –ordinary sugar – could be the answer.

Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), the University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital and York University have found that sucrose analgesia, or table sugar, reduces a baby’s pain response to routine care following a painful procedure. The study will be published in the March 2 issue of Pediatrics.

The study involved 240 infants. Before having blood drawn, half of the babies were treated with sucrose and half were given a placebo. Pain responses were measured during diaper changes performed after the blood tests. The study found that the sucrose-treated infants had lower pain scores than the placebo-treated infants.

“This research shows us that the benefits of sucrose analgesia extend beyond the painful event to other potentially uncomfortable procedures,” says lead author Dr. Anna Taddio, an Adjunct Scientist and Pharmacist at SickKids and an Associate Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. This is the first study to determine the effects of sucrose on routine care activities performed after painful procedures, she says.

The research team’s previous study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last summer, revealed that sucrose is an effective painkiller in newborns undergoing painful medical procedures.

Sucrose has been considered beneficial for procedures lasting up to 10 minutes, however its effect on subsequent procedures was not determined. As this study showed that the benefits extend to procedures following the 10-minute mark, infants can continue to benefit from the sucrose without the need for additional doses.

While the underlying mechanism responsible for the sustained benefit of sucrose is not known, the study has important clinical implications. “Based on the results of the study, sucrose may be recommended for caregiving procedures that follow painful events,” says Dr. Taddio.

Additional studies are needed to determine the underlying mechanisms responsible for the pain-relieving and calming actions of sucrose. The effectiveness of treating newborns with sucrose in other situations must also be investigated.

The study was supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and SickKids Foundation.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University of Toronto, is Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest centre dedicated to improving children’s health in the country. As innovators in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care, research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca. SickKids is committed to healthier children for a better world.

For more information, please contact:

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-6380
email: matet.nebres@sickkids.ca

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-7654 ext. 2059
email: suzanne.gold@sickkids.ca