People with an intellectual disability experience both acute and chronic pain with at least the same frequency as the general population. However, considerably less is known about the pain perception of people with Down syndrome. In this review paper, we evaluated the available clinical and experimental evidence. Some experimental studies of acute pain have indicated that pain threshold was higher than normal but only when using a reaction time method to measure pain sensitivity. However, when reaction time is not part of the calculation of the pain threshold, pain sensitivity in people with Down syndrome is in fact lower than normal (more sensitive to pain). Clinical studies of chronic pain have shown that people with an intellectual disability experience chronic pain and within that population, people with Down syndrome also experience chronic pain, but the precise prevalence of chronic pain in Down syndrome has yet to be established. Taken together, the literature suggests that people with Down syndrome experience pain, both acute and chronic, with at least the same frequency as the rest of the population. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that although acute pain expression appears to be delayed, once pain is registered, there appears to be a magnified pain response. We conclude by proposing an agenda for future research in this area.
- Down syndrome
- Intellectual disability