Researchers at Indiana University’s School of Medicine have developed a blood test that identifies biomarkers in the blood which can help to determine the severity of a patient’s pain. The results could potentially help doctors to accurately measure pain on a scale. Some people believe this breakthrough in measuring pain may help reduce opioid addiction and ultimately the opioid crisis.
Currently, doctors must rely on their patients’ accounts of the amount of pain they are experiencing and suggest a treatment plan accordingly. A more accurate way to measure pain could lead to better treatment options for patients.
Breakthrough in Measuring Pain: Researchers Developed Prototype for Blood Test for Pain
The study was led by Alexander Niculescu, MD, Ph.D., a psychiatry professor, and was published in the Nature journal Molecular Psychiatry. Hundreds of participants were tracked to find biomarkers in the blood to that can help doctors to objectively determine how much pain a patient is experiencing. This blood test, which is the first of its kind, would also help doctors to understand a patient’s long-term prognosis.
The blood test can objectively tell doctors whether a patient is experiencing pain and how severe the pain is. It’s important to have an objective way to measure this symptom since until now the feeling of pain has been subjective. Physicians have to rely on what patients tell them about their pain or whatever clinical observations they can make to determine their patients’ pain levels. This blood test promises to give doctors a tool to treat and prescribe medications more appropriately for people experiencing pain.
Biomarkers in Blood Help Doctors Assess Pain Levels
The researchers looked at biomarkers in the blood. These biomarkers work in a similar manner to the way glucose is a biomarker to diabetes; they let doctors assess the severity of their patient’s pain and then provide appropriate treatment. It’s hoped this prototype may alleviate the problems that have contributed to the current opioid crisis.
The goal of pain management is to match the patient with the medication that is going to provide the best level of relief with the fewest side effects. Dr. Niculescu points out that through precision health, by having “lots of options geared toward the needs of specific patients, you prevent larger problems, like the opioid epidemic, from occurring.”
The study experts on the team found biomarkers that match with non-addictive drugs for treating pain and can also help to predict when patients may experience pain going forward. They will assist doctors in determining if a patient is experiencing chronic pain which may result in future Emergency Room visits.
Further research will focus on establishing whether there are some markers for specific conditions, such as headaches or fibromyalgia, or for ones that work better for men or women.