Pain levels measured in brain using MRI

June 7, 2009 at 1:27 PM
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OXFORD, England, June 7 (UPI) -- British scientists say they have for the first time developed a way to use brain scans to objectively measure the levels of pain felt by patients.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have found distinct differences between the brains of people who are experiencing pain and those who are not. That means doctors may have a way to measure suffering based on something other than asking patients how they are feeling, The Sunday Times of London reported.

"Pain seems to increase the blood flow to certain parts of the brain, roughly in proportion to the amount of pain felt, and we can measure that activation in a brain scan," Irene Tracey, professor of anaesthetic science at Oxford University, told the newspaper.

She and her colleagues reportedly have found the brain employs a "pain matrix" wherein physical suffering typically activates more than a dozen parts of the brain -- a distinct contrast with other senses such as vision or hearing that only stimulate just one part of the brain.

The Sunday Times said the findings indicate pain could one day be measured objectively, a development that would have big legal and social implications.

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