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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37524. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037524. Epub 2012 May 22.

Bilateral sensory abnormalities in patients with unilateral neuropathic pain; a quantitative sensory testing (QST) study.

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Pain Management Unit, Department of Anesthesiology, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.


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%.

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