Thursday, 11 April 2013

Scientists use brain scans to discover the first objective measure of pain

Scientists use brain scans to discover the first objective measure of pain, Scientists have discovered the first objective measure of pain using brain images, Science Daily reported yesterday.

The current method for measuring pain is extremely subjective: Healthcare providers simply ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "perfectly fine" and 10 being "unbearable". The new research suggests that there are discernible patterns in brain function that can reveal both the extent of pain and the type.

The study utilized data-mining techniques to analyze images of 114 brains taken while test subjects were exposed to different levels of heat, from pleasantly warm to painful. Researchers found multiple brain systems that reacted to various pain levels. Surprisingly, they found that the signatures did not vary from person to person, and the scientists were able to predict with 90 to 100 percent accuracy the amount of pain caused by the heat, even without prior brain scans. When an analgesic was applied, brain imaging reflected the subsequent reduction in pain.

Also, the signature was specific to physical pain only. They compared the signatures they saw to brain scans of patients who had undergone emotional pain. Previous studies have shown that emotional pain can look a lot like physical pain, but it wasn't so in this case.

So far there are no objective tests for pain doctors can use in a hospital setting. Further research could result in a practical method, and could lead to further insight into everything from chronic pain to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

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