Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community


Study finds an objective way to measure pain

Stanford School of Medicine researchers have taken a first step toward developing a diagnostic tool that tracks patterns of brain activity to detect whether someone is in pain.

“People have been looking for a pain detector for a very long time,” said Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Pain Management. “We’re hopeful that we can eventually use this technology for better detection and better treatment of chronic pain.”

Currently doctors rely on patients to tell them whether or not they are in pain. But some patients may not be able to accurately report their symptoms, leading to a long search for some way to objectively measure it.

Researchers looked at subjects’ brain patterns with and without pain, which were interpreted by advanced computer algorithms. The computer was successful 81 percent of the time in modeling what pain looked like, an early step in devising a “painometer.”

Mackey cautioned that future studies are needed to confirm whether these methods will work to measure various kinds of pain, such as chronic pain, and whether they can accurately distinguish between pain and other emotional states, such as anxiety and depression.

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