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Taking the measure of pain


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Measuring levels of two chemicals released by the brain when it senses pain could offer an objective way to assess pain, according to a report from researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM). They reached that conclusion after a yearlong study at the UNM center for Mental Illness and Neuroscience Discovery (MIND) Institute.

In the study, which was recently accepted for publication by NeuroImage Magazine, the researchers measured levels of glutamine and glutamate after inflicting pain on study subjects by placing ice on a foot for 10 minutes. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy consistently found that the pain stimulus caused glutamate concentrations to increase by nearly 10% from baseline; glutamine levels consistently increased too. The increases correlated strongly to the study subjects' reports of pain.

Because pain intensity from a given pain stimulus can differ significantly between people, assessing and treating pain can be difficult if a patient can't report his pain. The researchers hope that their findings will help clinicians improve pain management protocols and prevent brain tissue damage associated with chronic pain.

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.