Salivary Alpha-Amylase Correlates with Subjective Heat Pain Perception

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Objective. Self-reports of pain are important for an adequate therapy. This is a problem with patients and infants who are restricted in providing an accurate verbal estimation of their pain. Reliable, real-time, economical, and non-invasive physiological correlates might contribute to a more comprehensive description of pain. Salivary alpha-amylase constitutes one candidate biomarker, which reflects predominantly sympathetic nervous system alterations under stressful conditions and can be measured non-invasively. The current study investigated the effects of acute heat pain on salivary alpha-amylase activity.

Methods. Heat pain tolerance was measured on the non-dominant forearm. Participants completed visual analog scales on pain intensity and unpleasantness. Saliva samples were collected directly after pain induction.

Subjects. Twenty-seven healthy volunteers were recruited for this study.

Results. While salivary alpha-amylase levels correlated positively with intensity and unpleasantness ratings in response to acute heat pain stimuli, there was no corresponding association with pain tolerance.

Conclusions. Salivary alpha-amylase is suggested to be an indirect physiologic correlate of subjective heat pain perception. Future studies should address the role of salivary alpha-amylase depending on the origin of pain, the concerned tissue, and other pain assessment methods.

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