How Badly Does It Hurt? The Research Project, Week Thirty Five, Ohio

A person’s blood pressure, body temperature, pulse rate, cholesterol level and more can all be measured objectively in our bodies. But how does one measure a person’s pain level? And what if the person is a child, not an adult? Simply put, it can’t be measured objectively, but doctors and nurses do need to have a reliable way to assess their patients’ pain levels.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are studying the unique challenges involved in analyzing the way children experience pain. They interviewed 32 children with chronic pain, including children affected by juvenile arthritis, sickle cell anemia and cerebral palsy. They also interviewed the parents of these children.

The lead researcher was professor Jeffrey Jacobson, a UC associate professor of anthropology. Jacobson described the project as follows:

“Our study focused on how children aged 8-to-18 experience and talk about their pain and on the kinds of language and vocabulary they like to use. For example, we found that many questions or items from pain measures used with adults, describing pain as ‘gnawing or suffocating,’ made younger children uncomfortable. They appeared to relate that to a monster or someone doing something to them. They also have a more limited vocabulary than adults, particularly in relation to the more abstract language of pain quality.”

The study recommended 13 revisions to the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System or PROMIS, an initiative of the National Institutes of Health with 12 research centers around the country. The goal of PROMIS is to develop “dynamic tools to measure health outcomes from the patient perspective.”

The results of the UC study were published online in August, 2015 in the Journal of Pain.

The University of Cincinnati, founded in 1819, is a public research university with an enrollment of more than 44,000 students in the heart of the great city of Cincinnati.


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