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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Anesthesiology and Pain Management - Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience - Physiology

Bilateral Sensory Abnormalities in Patients with Unilateral Neuropathic Pain; A Quantitative Sensory Testing (QST) Study
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Author: Karl-Heinz Konopka et al.

by Karl-Heinz Konopka, Marten Harbers, Andrea Houghton, Rudie Kortekaas, Andre van Vliet, Wia Timmerman, Johan A. den Boer, Michel M.R.F. Struys, Marten van Wijhe

In patients who experience unilateral chronic pain, abnormal sensory perception at the non-painful side has been reported. Contralateral sensory changes in these patients have been given little attention, possibly because they are regarded as clinically irrelevant. Still, bilateral sensory changes in these patients could become clinically relevant if they challenge the correct identification of their sensory dysfunction in terms of hyperalgesia and allodynia. Therefore, we have used the standardized quantitative sensory testing (QST) protocol of the German Research Network on Neuropathic Pain (DFNS) to investigate somatosensory function at the painful side and the corresponding non-painful side in unilateral neuropathic pain patients using gender- and age-matched healthy volunteers as a reference cohort. Sensory abnormalities were observed across all QST parameters at the painful side, but also, to a lesser extent, at the contralateral, non-painful side. Similar relative distributions regarding sensory loss/gain for non-nociceptive and nociceptive stimuli were found for both sides. Once a sensory abnormality for a QST parameter at the affected side was observed, the prevalence of an abnormality for the same parameter at the non-affected side was as high as 57% (for Pressure Pain Threshold). Our results show that bilateral sensory dysfunction in patients with unilateral neuropathic pain is more rule than exception. Therefore, this phenomenon should be taken into account for appropriate diagnostic evaluation in clinical practice. This is particularly true for mechanical stimuli where the 95% Confidence Interval for the prevalence of sensory abnormalities at the non-painful side ranges between 33% and 50%.