Pathophysiology of pain in postherpetic neuralgia: A clinical and neurophysiological study

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Postherpetic neuralgia is an exceptionally drug-resistant neuropathic pain. To investigate the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying postherpetic neuralgia we clinically investigated sensory disturbances, pains and itching, with an 11-point numerical rating scale in 41 patients with ophthalmic postherpetic neuralgia. In all the patients we recorded the blink reflex, mediated by non-nociceptive myelinated Aβ-fibers, and trigeminal laser evoked potentials (LEPs) related to nociceptive myelinated Aδ- and unmyelinated C-fiber activation. We also sought possible correlations between clinical sensory disturbances and neurophysiological data. Neurophysiological testing yielded significantly abnormal responses on the affected side compared with the normal side (P < 0.001). The blink reflex delay correlated with the intensity of paroxysmal pain, whereas the Aδ- and C-LEP amplitude reduction correlated with the intensity of constant pain (P < 0.01). Allodynia correlated with none of the neurophysiological data. Our study shows that postherpetic neuralgia impairs all sensory fiber groups. The neurophysiological-clinical correlations suggest that constant pain arises from a marked loss of nociceptive afferents, whereas paroxysmal pain is related to Aβ-fiber demyelination. These findings might be useful for a better understanding of pain mechanisms in postherpetic neuralgia.

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