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A Journal on Anesthesiology, Resuscitation, Analgesia and Intensive Care

Official Journal of the Italian Society of Anesthesiology, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care
Indexed/Abstracted in: Current Contents/Clinical Medicine, EMBASE, PubMed/MEDLINE, Science Citation Index Expanded (SciSearch), Scopus
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Capo Calavà (Messina), September 20-23, 2004

Minerva Anestesiologica 2005 July-August;71(7-8):413-7

language: English

Pain perception and assessment

Mather L.

Pain Research Center University of Utah School of Medicine Salt Lake City, UT, USA


Our inability to measure pain effectively is a major barrier to progress in pain research and advancement in clinical interventions for pain. Historically, the mind-body dichotomy has constrained our thinking about pain and its quantification. One line of work has pursued pain as the sensory end product of nociception: pain is the realization of signals of tissue injury arriving at the cortex. At the other extreme, some clinicians contend that pain is “what the patient says it is”. In other words, it is a purely mental and entirely subjective phenomenon. Research on functional brain imaging, psychophysiological research and recent neurophysiological research on animal models provide confluent evidence that both of these positions are misleading oversimplifications. Pain is the emergent product of massive, parallel, distributed processing in the brain that engages structures involved in emotion and cognition as well as in sensation. To advance pain measurement, our research team has examined Sokolov’s defense response in human subjects experiencing repeated, brief painful electrical shocks delivered to a fingertip through a tiny electrode. Sokolov proposed that threatening events elicit a hypothalamically-orchestrated pattern of arousal that prepares the organism to cope with threat. Measures of sympathetic nervous system arousal and brain evoked potentials in our subjects reveal a stable pattern of this sort when we subject the data to structural equation modeling. When subjects undergo equally intense shocks delivered through a large electrode, they experience a strong vibration-like, unpleasant sensation that causes discomfort but not nociception. The non-painful shock elicits broad levels of arousal equal to those obtained with painful shocks in subjects, but structural equation modeling demonstrates that such arousal does not conform to the defense response pattern. Moreover, multivariate measures of sympathetic arousal and evoked potentials can discriminate painful from non-painful stimuli more accurately than can subjective pain reports. These observations suggest that pain may have a unique psychophysiological signature. More importantly, perhaps, this approach suggests that the combination of psychophysiological research and multivariate statistics provides an avenue for advancing pain research outside of the mind-body dichotomy.

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