Common pain measurement scale might not be that accurate

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Oct. 8, 2007

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Primary care physicians increasingly are screening for pain by asking patients to rate their current pain from zero to 10, but this may not be the ideal way to detect chronic pain that disrupts day-to-day activities, according to a study in the October Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"We know that pain is a serious problem in primary care, but pain screening may not be the best way to address the problem," said Erin E. Krebs, MD, MPH, lead author and assistant professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

Researchers assessed patient pain two different ways, finding that the commonly used numeric scale was 69% sensitive and 78% specific to detect functional impairment. It missed about a third of patients whose pain interfered with their lives. Researchers suspect that this tool misses intermittent pain that might not be present during a physician visit. Also, some patients prefer other terminology such as "discomfort" rather than "pain."

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