Summary
Neuropathic pain is pain caused by damage or disease affecting the somatosensory system. Neuropathic pain may be associated with abnormal sensations called dysesthesia or pain from normally non-painful stimuli (allodynia). It may have continuous and/or episodic (paroxysmal) components. The latter resemble stabbings or electric shocks. Common qualities include burning or coldness, "pins and needles" sensations, numbness and itching. Up to 7-8% of the European population is affected, and in 5% of persons it may be severe. Neuropathic pain may result from disorders of the peripheral nervous system or the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Thus, neuropathic pain may be divided into peripheral neuropathic pain, central neuropathic pain, or mixed (peripheral and central) neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain may occur in isolation or in combination with other forms of pain. Medical treatments focus on identifying the underlying cause and relieving pain. In cases of neuropathy, the pain may progress to insensitivity. Diagnosis of pain conditions relies on the character of the pain with a sharp stabbing character and the presence of particular features such as mechanical allodynia and cold allodynia. Neuropathic pain also tends to affect defined dermatomes and there may be limits to the area of pain. For neuropathic pain, clinicians look for an underlying lesion to the nervous system or an inciting cause consistent with the development of neuropathic pain. The obvious presence of an underlying feature or cause is not always detectable, and response to treatment may be used as a surrogate particularly in cases where diagnosis of the underlying lesion leaves the patient in pain for a prolonged period of time. MRI may be helpful in the identification of underlying lesions, reversible causes or serious underlying conditions such as primary presentation of a tumor or multiple sclerosis. Quantitative sensory testing (QST), a system of detailed analysis of the somatosensory system, is frequently used in research situations to identify neuropathic pain and a more detailed analysis of its components.
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