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Scientists Are Researching New Ways to Measure Pain

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If you’ve ever had an emergency room visit, you’ve probably had the doctor or nurse hold up a sign with emoji face on it each displaying a number and a varying degree of pain. 1 being the lowest, and 10 being unbearable, this is essentially the way our modern health care system determines a patient’s level of pain. There are no special devices like a stethoscope or a blood pressure monitor to properly measure pain, all they have is this chart.

This is troublesome, as pain is subjective. While a 4 on the pain scale for one person may be a 9 on the pain scale for another. Determining how much pain someone is in is a problem that can cause issues for doctors when trying to diagnose and treat an issue. While this chart can be helpful in getting an idea of the level of a patient’s pain, it still doesn’t do much in the form of aiding in a doctors accurate diagnosis.

Using the chart does nothing more than determine the patients level of pain, it does not work towards identifying whether the pain is caused by inflammation, nerves, or a variety of other sources. This makes it difficult for patients, as they are forced to undergo a trial-and-error to find which medication works best for them, sometimes leading to no relief for weeks or even months.

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The National Institute of Health is pushing for development of a more accurate system in determining pain. For so long, physicians would hear the word “pain” and the first order of business would be to prescribe an opioid of varying strengths, and the patients would go on their merry way. Now, in the throes of the opioid crisis, doctors are forced to take a step back and look at a more structured and accurate approach to help alleviate pain.

David Thomas, of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, made it clear they have no intention of silencing “the patients’ voice.” He clarifies that they are looking to help in developing a system to provide an accurate diagnosis and a more effective treatment plan.

Scientists at the NIH are in the early stages of research, studying brain scans, pupil reactions, and other identifying factors that signifying the markers of pain in hopes of eventually putting together an accurate method of properly measuring pain. An estimated 25 million people in the U.S. experience daily pain to some degree, and it has become clear that traditional opioids have detrimental side effects. Eventually, researchers hope that by better understanding how to measure pain, it will lead to proper diagnosis and the prescription of more direct medications that can alleviate the source of the pain, rather than just cover it up.

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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