New diagnostic tool to measure pain in the works

Pain, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What may be excruciating agony for you may feel like a mild annoyance to someone else. Unfortunately pain is also one of the most important diagnostic tools that doctors have. So wouldn’t it be nice if doctors had a tool of some sort to measure pain? According to an article posted September 15, 2011 on Medical News tells us that “Tool That Measures Pain Objectively Under Way”

According to the article a tool which yields an objective physiological assessment of pain rather then relying on a patient’s self assessment is being developed by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.

The tool which uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans along with advanced computer algorithms accurately predicted thermal pain 81% of the time, but has so far not been tested on all types of pain including chronic pain or emotion driven pain such as that from anxiety and depression.

Senior investigator Dr Sean Mackey, associate professor of anesthesia and chief of the Division of Pain Management at the School, told the press: "People have been looking for a pain detector for a very long time. We rely on patient self-reporting for pain, and that remains the gold standard," he added, “But, he said, many patients ask, especially the very young and the very old, who find it hard to articulate their pain, wouldn't it be great if there was a tool that could measure pain?”

Hank Greely, a Stanford law professor and expert on the legal, ethical and social issues surrounding the biosciences, said this bias also exists in the legal field, where hundreds of thousands of law suits a year hinge on the existence of pain. "A robust, accurate way to determine whether someone is in pain or not would be a godsend for the legal system," said Greely, who was not involved in the current study.

The new tool is not yet ready to be used in a court of law but could someday help doctors to diagnose and treat pain even when the patient is not able to communicate.

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