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Pain maps could expose partners who exaggerate for sympathy

Tuesday 4 September 2012


From UK newspaper The Telegraph:


What a pain: doctors may soon be able to tell
just how much it hurts.
(Photo: ALAMY)

Pain maps could expose partners who exaggerate for sympathy

A pain map of the brain being developed by scientists could finally put an end to the debate about whether women suffer more pain than men.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
7:10AM BST 02 Sep 2012

It is an argument that has long divided the sexes, but there may finally be a way of telling whether you suffer more pain than your partner.

Researchers are building a “pain map” of the brain, which allows them to pinpoint the exact location and intensity of a person’s pain.

The development could finally put an end to the debate about whether women suffer more pain than men.

It could also help sceptical partners tell whether their other half is exaggerating their ailments to win sympathy or if they are really in as much pain as they say.

Using brain scanning technology, neuroscientists have been able to see how the brain responds to pain and map the signals to different parts of the body. They have also been able to measure how much pain someone is in from the signals in the brain.

The research is being conducted due to the difficulties that doctors have in assessing pain. They currently depend upon their patients describing the location of their pain and rating it on a scale of one to ten – a technique which is unreliable.

Dr Flavia Mancini, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London helping to build the pain map, said different parts of the body light up specific areas of the brain when they are in pain.

She said it could change the way pain is diagnosed in patients and make it possible to quantify it objectively for the first time.

She said: "When we used a laser to activate the pain receptors on the hand and fingers of our healthy subjects, we could see a signal very clearly in the brain. Other parts of the body will show up just as well.

"The ways we quantify pain at the moment are unreliable and if a patient has difficulty communicating it can be very hard.

"In the future, we see this as a way to track pain in patients as there is a signal in the brain that correspondents to the current pain the person is experiencing.

"It could also provide a quantitative marker would make it possible to see whether drug to tackle pain is effective or not."

Dr Mancini, who presented her preliminary findings from the study at the World Congress on Pain in Milan on Thursday, used laser pulses to trigger pain in the fingers of volunteers while they were in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner.

With each pain they found a small part of the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for detecting touch, lit up each time the laser fired.

In separate research presented at the conference, researchers revealed they have also been looking at how to measure the intensity of pain experienced by individuals.

A study at Aichi Gakuin University in Japan saw changes in the electrical activity in the brain when volunteers experienced dental pain.

Such research could prove particularly useful for doctors treating young children, who are less able to describe their symptoms, or in people who have been in serious accidents and are unable to communicate.

It could also help doctors identify members of the "worried well" who may exaggerate their aches and pains to get treatment.

One in five adults suffer from long-term pain, with backache and headaches being the most common. Yet it is notoriously difficult for medical staff to assess pain and often patients are left to self administer powerful drugs which can be harmful.

Professor Irene Tracey, a neuroscientist at Oxford University who studies pain, said brain imaging was helping to transform the way pain is treated.

She said: "Brain imaging allows us to 'look' inside the human central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord – and measure various things about how they work.

"We can watch the brain as it processes signals from damaged areas of the body to generate the conscious experience of pain and this allows us to identify which parts of the brain are important for generating that experience.

"We can also measure chemical changes in the brain and structural changes in the white matter connections or grey matter volume.

"These measures allow us to determine the impact of living in a chronic pain state on the brain. They will inform the development of new treatments as well as the management of patients."


The above, with comments, originally appeared here.

The article was reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald with the less sexist heading, "Scans to map whole world of pain".



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