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Pain. 2003 Oct;105(3):481-8.

Analgesic and placebo effects of thalamic stimulation.

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Faculté de Médecine, Neurochirurgie, Université de Sherbrooke, 3001 12e Avenue Nord, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada J1H 5N4.


Numerous clinical studies have reported successful relief of chronic pain with sensory thalamic stimulation. However, even with the extensive use of sensory thalamic stimulation as a clinical tool in the relief of chronic pain, the results are still inconsistent. This discrepancy could probably be explained by the fact that the majority of these studies are case reports or retrospective analyses, which have often used imprecise pain measurements that do not allow a rigorous statistical evaluation of pain relief. None of these studies measured the effect of stimulation on clinical pain for longer than a few hours per day, which is an important aspect considering that clinical pain can vary over time. Moreover, placebo controls are seldom included. In the current study, we measured patients' pain perception at home over a 2-week period, both during days of normal stimulation of the sensory thalamus and during days without stimulation. Patients also came to the laboratory to assess the effects of thalamic and placebo stimulation on clinical pain, experimental heat pain, innocuous air puff and visual stimulation. A potential relation between the perceived paresthesia and analgesic efficacy during thalamic and placebo stimulation was also explored. We found that thalamic stimulation significantly affected clinical and experimental pain perception, but that an important placebo component also exists. On the other hand, neither thalamic nor placebo stimulation affected air puff and visual ratings, suggesting that the effect applies specifically to pain and hence is not caused by a general change in attention. The level of paresthesia elicited during the placebo manipulation was also directly correlated with the degree of placebo pain relief. These results suggest that thalamic stimulation produces a small but significant reduction in pain perception, but that a significant placebo effect also exists.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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