Sensitivity of the DN4 in Screening for Neuropathic Pain Syndromes

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Abstract

Objectives:

Several tools have been developed to screen for neuropathic pain. This study examined the sensitivity of the Douleur Neuropathique en 4 Questions (DN4) in screening for various neuropathic pain syndromes.

Materials and Methods:

This prospective observational study was conducted in 7 Canadian academic pain centers between April 2008 and December 2011. All newly admitted patients (n=2199) were approached and 789 eligible participants form the sample for this analysis. Baseline data included demographics, disability, health-related quality of life, and pain characteristics. Diagnosis of probable or definite neuropathic pain was on the basis of history, neurological examination, and ancillary diagnostic tests.

Results:

The mean age of study participants was 53.5 years and 54.7% were female; 83% (n=652/789) screened positive on the DN4 (≥4/10). The sensitivity was highest for central neuropathic pain (92.5%, n=74/80) and generalized polyneuropathies (92.1%, n=139/151), and lowest for trigeminal neuralgia (69.2%, n=36/52). After controlling for confounders, the sensitivity of the DN4 remained significantly higher for individuals with generalized polyneuropathies (odds ratio [OR]=4.35; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.15, 8.81), central neuropathic pain (OR=3.76; 95% CI: 1.56, 9.07), and multifocal polyneuropathies (OR=1.72; 95% CI: 1.03, 2.85) compared with focal neuropathies.

Discussion:

The DN4 performed well; however, sensitivity varied by syndrome and the lowest sensitivity was found for trigeminal neuralgia. A positive DN4 was associated with greater pain catastrophizing, disability and anxiety/depression, which may be because of disease severity, and/or these scales may reflect magnification of sensory symptoms and findings. Future research should examine how the DN4 could be refined to improve its sensitivity for specific neuropathic pain conditions.

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