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The diagnostic workup of patients with neuropathic pain.
Med Clin North Am. 2007 Jan; 91(1):21-30.MC

Abstract

Determining the causes of neuropathic pain is more than an epistemological exercise. At its essence, it is a quest to delineate mechanisms of dysfunction through which treatment strategies can be created that are effective in reducing, ameliorating, or eliminating symptomatology. To date, predictors of which patients will develop neuropathic pain or who will respond to specific therapies are lacking, and present therapies have been developed mainly through trial and error. Our current inability to make therapeutically meaningful decisions based on ancillary test data is illustrated by the following: In a study specifically designed to assess the response of patients with painful distal sensory neuropathies to the 5% lidocaine patch, no relationship between treatment response and distal leg skin biopsy, QST, or sensory nerve conduction study results could be established. From a mechanistic perspective, the hypothesis that the lidocaine patch would be most effective in patients with relatively intact epidermal innervation, whose neuropathic pain is presumed attributable to "irritable nociceptors," and least effective in patients with few surviving epidermal nociceptors, presumably with "deafferentation pain," was unproven. The possible explanations are multiple and outside the scope of this review. However, these findings, coupled with the disparity in C-fiber subtype involvement in diabetic small-fiber neuropathy, and the recently reported inability of enzyme replacement therapy in Fabry disease to influence intraepidermal innervation density, while having mixed effects on cold and warm QST thresholds, and beneficial effects on sudomotor findings, when therapeutic benefit was demonstrated, lead one to conclude that the specificity of ancillary testing in neuropathic pain is inadequate at present, and reinforce the aforementioned caveats about inferential conclusions from indirect data. The diagnosis of neuropathic pain mechanisms is in its nascent stages and ancillary testing remains "subordinate," "subsidiary," and "auxiliary" as defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary. As a consequence of these difficulties, the recent approach by Bennett and his colleagues may have merit. They have hypothesized (and provide data in support) that chronic pain can be more or less neuropathic on a spectrum between "likely," "possible," and "unlikely," based on patient responses on validated neuropathic pain symptom scales, when compared with specialist pain physician certainty of the presence of neuropathic pain on a 100-mm visual analog scale. The symptoms most associated with neuropathic pain were dysesthesias, evoked pain, paroxysmal pain, thermal pain, autonomic complaints, and descriptions of the pain as being sharp, hot, or cold, with high sensitivity. Higher scores for these symptoms correlated with greater clinician certainty of the presence of neuropathic pain mechanisms. Considering each individual patient's chronic pain as being somewhere on a continuum between "purely nociceptive" and "purely neuropathic" may have diagnostic and therapeutic relevance by enhancing specificity, but this requires clinical confirmation. Thus, symptom assessment remains indispensable in the evaluation of neuropathic pain, ancillary testing notwithstanding

Authors+Show Affiliations

University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT 05405, and Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114, USA. shhorowitz@partners.org

Pub Type(s)

Journal Article
Review

Language

eng

PubMed ID

17164102

Citation

Horowitz, Steven H.. "The Diagnostic Workup of Patients With Neuropathic Pain." The Medical Clinics of North America, vol. 91, no. 1, 2007, pp. 21-30.
Horowitz SH. The diagnostic workup of patients with neuropathic pain. Med Clin North Am. 2007;91(1):21-30.
Horowitz, S. H. (2007). The diagnostic workup of patients with neuropathic pain. The Medical Clinics of North America, 91(1), 21-30.
Horowitz SH. The Diagnostic Workup of Patients With Neuropathic Pain. Med Clin North Am. 2007;91(1):21-30. PubMed PMID: 17164102.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - JOUR T1 - The diagnostic workup of patients with neuropathic pain. A1 - Horowitz,Steven H, PY - 2006/12/14/pubmed PY - 2007/2/14/medline PY - 2006/12/14/entrez SP - 21 EP - 30 JF - The Medical clinics of North America JO - Med Clin North Am VL - 91 IS - 1 N2 - Determining the causes of neuropathic pain is more than an epistemological exercise. At its essence, it is a quest to delineate mechanisms of dysfunction through which treatment strategies can be created that are effective in reducing, ameliorating, or eliminating symptomatology. To date, predictors of which patients will develop neuropathic pain or who will respond to specific therapies are lacking, and present therapies have been developed mainly through trial and error. Our current inability to make therapeutically meaningful decisions based on ancillary test data is illustrated by the following: In a study specifically designed to assess the response of patients with painful distal sensory neuropathies to the 5% lidocaine patch, no relationship between treatment response and distal leg skin biopsy, QST, or sensory nerve conduction study results could be established. From a mechanistic perspective, the hypothesis that the lidocaine patch would be most effective in patients with relatively intact epidermal innervation, whose neuropathic pain is presumed attributable to "irritable nociceptors," and least effective in patients with few surviving epidermal nociceptors, presumably with "deafferentation pain," was unproven. The possible explanations are multiple and outside the scope of this review. However, these findings, coupled with the disparity in C-fiber subtype involvement in diabetic small-fiber neuropathy, and the recently reported inability of enzyme replacement therapy in Fabry disease to influence intraepidermal innervation density, while having mixed effects on cold and warm QST thresholds, and beneficial effects on sudomotor findings, when therapeutic benefit was demonstrated, lead one to conclude that the specificity of ancillary testing in neuropathic pain is inadequate at present, and reinforce the aforementioned caveats about inferential conclusions from indirect data. The diagnosis of neuropathic pain mechanisms is in its nascent stages and ancillary testing remains "subordinate," "subsidiary," and "auxiliary" as defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary. As a consequence of these difficulties, the recent approach by Bennett and his colleagues may have merit. They have hypothesized (and provide data in support) that chronic pain can be more or less neuropathic on a spectrum between "likely," "possible," and "unlikely," based on patient responses on validated neuropathic pain symptom scales, when compared with specialist pain physician certainty of the presence of neuropathic pain on a 100-mm visual analog scale. The symptoms most associated with neuropathic pain were dysesthesias, evoked pain, paroxysmal pain, thermal pain, autonomic complaints, and descriptions of the pain as being sharp, hot, or cold, with high sensitivity. Higher scores for these symptoms correlated with greater clinician certainty of the presence of neuropathic pain mechanisms. Considering each individual patient's chronic pain as being somewhere on a continuum between "purely nociceptive" and "purely neuropathic" may have diagnostic and therapeutic relevance by enhancing specificity, but this requires clinical confirmation. Thus, symptom assessment remains indispensable in the evaluation of neuropathic pain, ancillary testing notwithstanding SN - 0025-7125 UR - https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/17164102/The_diagnostic_workup_of_patients_with_neuropathic_pain_ L2 - https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0025-7125(06)00108-8 DB - PRIME DP - Unbound Medicine ER -