Australian research scientists have devised a new blood test, called “painHS”. They say the “painHS” will soon be an accurate tool for objectively grading levels of chronic pain.
How does the new pain assessment test work?
The “color of pain” project is being led by neuroscientist Mark Hutchinson, PhD, a professor at the University of Adelaide Medical School in Australia. According to Dr. Hutchinson, the test employs advanced electromagnetic spectrum analysis to reveal how pain alters the molecular structure of immune cells.
Chronic pain shows up in immune cells as a color
“We are literally quantifying the color of pain,” says Hutchinson. “We’ve now discovered that we can use the natural color of biology to predict the severity of pain. What we found is that persistent chronic pain has a different natural color in immune cells than in a situation where there isn’t persistent pain.”
Hyperspectral imaging enables the researchers to examine the electromagnetic spectrum of each and every pixel in an image of an immune cell. They can then identify the distinctive colors present only in the immune cells of chronic pain patients. The researchers hope that further development of the test will enable doctors to accurately measure both:
- The levels of pain endured by each individual patient, and
- Each patient’s personal tolerance for pain
Pain is, of course, the most subjective of all medical symptoms
There is currently no reliable and accurate method to objectively quantify the pain a patient is experiencing. One patient’s “3” may well be another patient’s “7”.
Any doctor’s interpretation and analysis of what he or she hears from a patient is greatly aided by objective data, such as that derived from medical testing and personal observation.
In addition to these diagnostic tools, a doctor who specializes in pain management accumulates a wealth of training, experience, and a keenly developed intuitive sense. Each diagnosis and treatment plan thus becomes a convergence of science with art.
Thus a doctor with experience in this area can make a world of difference in either your recovery or your day to day existence. It’s really important.
Divergences will occur
What will happen when the purportedly objective “painHS” test paints a differently colored pain picture than the portrait of pain self-reported by the patient? If the test results assert that a patient’s pain level is a “4”, while the patient says it feels like an “8”, which version will control the patient’s treatment?
There’s very little danger the test will ever be used to over-prescribe pain medications. But could it be used to deny a patient the pain relief that he or she vitally needs to lead a useful and enjoyable life?
A blood test can never replace your communication with your doctor about the pain you’re feeling
Hutchison emphasizes the “painHS” test is not meant to replace the subjective description of pain which a doctor hears from a patient. “Self-reporting by patients is still going to be key, but what this does mean is that those ‘forgotten people’ who are unable to communicate their pain conditions, such as babies or people with dementia, can now have their condition diagnosed and treated.”
It is good news that research scientists are developing a helpful tool for assessing the pain of those for whom communication with their doctor is difficult or impossible.
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