How diagnostic tests help to disentangle the mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain symptoms in painful neuropathies

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Abstract

Neuropathic pain, ie, pain arising directly from a lesion or disease affecting the somatosensory afferent pathway, manifests with various symptoms, the commonest being ongoing burning pain, electrical shock-like sensations, and dynamic mechanical allodynia. Reliable insights into the mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain symptoms come from diagnostic tests documenting and quantifying somatosensory afferent pathway damage in patients with painful neuropathies. Neurophysiological investigation and skin biopsy studies suggest that ongoing burning pain primarily reflects spontaneous activity in nociceptive-fiber pathways. Electrical shock-like sensations presumably arise from high-frequency ectopic bursts generated in demyelinated, nonnociceptive, Aβ fibers. Although the mechanisms underlying dynamic mechanical allodynia remain debatable, normally innocuous stimuli might cause pain by activating spared and sensitized nociceptive afferents. Extending the mechanistic approach to neuropathic pain symptoms might advance targeted therapy for the individual patient and improve testing for new drugs.

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