BACKGROUND: Abdominal pain is the most common symptom in chronic pancreatitis (CP) and has an extensive impact on patients' lives. Quantitative sensory testing (QST) provides information on sensitivity to pain and mechanisms that can help quantify pain and guide treatment. The aims of this study were (1) to explore sensitivity to pain in patients with CP using QST and (2) to associate patient and disease characteristics with QST results.
METHODS: Ninety-one patients with painful CP and 28 healthy control participants completed a QST paradigm using static tests (muscle pressure stimulation and electrical skin stimulations) to unravel segmental and widespread hyperalgesia as a consequence of visceral pain. A dynamic conditioned pain modulation (CPM) paradigm was used as a proxy of pain modulation from the brainstem to inhibit incoming nociceptive barrage, and questionnaires were used to gather information on pain experience and quality of life.
RESULTS: Patients had impaired CPM compared with controls (18.0±29.3% vs. 30.9±29.3%, P=0.04) and were hypersensitive to pressure stimulation, specifically in the pancreatic (Th10) dermatome (P<0.001). The capacity of CPM was associated with clinical pain intensity (P=0.01) and (in the univariate analysis only) the use of opioids was associated with hyperalgesia to pressure stimulation (P<0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Sensitivity to pain in CP patients can be characterized by a simple bedside QST. Severe clinical pain in CP was associated with reduced CPM function and should be targeted in management.