For some patients, such as those with advanced dementia or the very frail and ill, it can be difficult to know if they are suffering pain because they are not able to communicate it.
But that might be about to change, with a new blood test being developed by Australian scientists that will allow medical professionals to provide an instant diagnosis of pain.
One in five Australians are said to suffer chronic pain.
The scientists developed the tool after they discovered that different types of pain have different colour biomarkers.
In particular, immune cells are a different colour for those in acute pain.
A light measurement tool – called hyerspectral imaging analysis – is used to examine the blood and will enable medical staff to instantly determine if the patient is in acute pain.
“We are literally quantifying the colour of pain,” said Professor Mark Hutchinson.
“We’ve now discovered that we can use the natural colour of biology to predict the severity of pain. What we’ve found is that persistent chronic pain has a different natural colour in immune cells than in a situation where there isn’t persistent pain.”
“We will be able to take a simple blood sample, and within minutes we are able to determine if someone has persistent pain.”
The test is expected to be helpful for patients who aren’t able to communicate, such as patients with advanced dementia, babies and children, and even animals.
But Professor Huchinson said the test should not be seen as a replacement for patients talking to their doctor about their pain.
The ‘forgotten people’ who aren’t able to communicate their pain
“What this does mean is that those ‘forgotten people’ who are unable to communicate their pain conditions such as babies or people with dementia can now have their condition diagnosed and treated,” he said.
It is hoped that the test, which is called painHS, will be available for use within 18 months.
The new test was revealed at the Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM) conference in Sydney on the weekend.