Circumcised boys remember pain


By:  Joseph Hall
     Science Reporter

Friday, February 3, 1995
The Toronto Star
One Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Circumcision makes baby boys far more sensitive to pain than girls
and their non-circumcised counterparts, a Hospital for Sick Children
study suggests.

And circumcised males may continue to be less tolerant of injuries
and painful ailments in youth and adulthood, said Dr. Gideon Koren,
whose study was published in this week's issue of the British
medical journal The Lancet.

Videotaping 100 boys and girls as they got their diphtheria, whooping
cough, tetanus and flu vaccinations at the age of 3 to 4 months,
researchers at the hospital studied the infants for their responses
to the jabbing needles.

"We discovered that the pain was higher among the boys with
circumcisions whereas (with) the boys that did not have circumcision,
the pain was not different from the girls."

About 50 per cent of the babies were boys, and half of these were
circumcised—about the rate in the Canadian population.

Doctors measured the babies' pain responses by the length and
loudness of their cries and by the amount they writhed and wriggled
in their discomfort.

The increased response to the vaccination pain among the circumcised
boys was likely due to a remembrance of their earlier penis surgery,
Koren said.

"It tells us that boys who are circumcised remember that pain and
it probably conditions them to respond more for later pain," said
Koren, who is head of clinical pharmacology at the Toronto pediatric

The study helps shatter the belief of some that newborns don't
experience pain, he said, and argues forcefully that baby boys
should be given pain relief during circumcision.

We do know from adults that we are conditioned for pain, and the
infant's pain conditioning may well linger into later life, he

"We did not check for this but I would not be surprised.  If this
is something that the newborn baby is remembering and it's already
causing him to be conditioned, then it may have long-term effects."

Koren said there seemed to be no other explanation than circumcision
for the different reactions from the infants.  "We also looked at
cultural background and maternal intervention on pain response.
No significant associations were found."

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