Reversal of hypoaesthesia by nerve block, or placebo: A psychologically mediated sign in chronic pseudoneuropathic pain patients

Verdugo R.J.; Ochoa J.L.

Keywords: injury, trial, humans, pain, human, male, disorders, anesthesia, block, aged, causalgia, somatization, nerve, measurement, adult, female, placebo, reflex, lidocaine, article, thresholds, hysteria, method, controlled, clinical, differential, dystrophy, sensory, local, study, priority, sympathetic, middle, journal, effect, Single-Blind, Diagnosis,, Neurotic, neuralgia, hypesthesia, Somatoform


Objectives - To gain understanding of the mechanism and meaning of improvement of hypoaesthesia after a diagnostic intervention, and of the nature of the population that displays such a sign. Methods - Patients with chronic 'neuropathic' pain underwent rigorous clinical and laboratory investigations, including placebo controlled local anaesthetic block. Patients displaying profound regional cutaneous hypoaesthesia and pain entered the study through either of two criteria: (a) reversal of hypoaesthesia after diagnostic block, (b) nerve injury as the cause of hypoaesthesia and pain. The semeiology displayed by these patients together with the behaviour of their sensory phenomena in response to blocks were compared. Three groups were expected: (1) patients with 'neuropathic' pain with profound hypoaesthesia reversed by block, but without neuropathy; (2) patients whose hypoaesthesia did not reverse and who had neuropathy as the cause of their sensory dysfunction; and (3) patients whose hypoaesthesia reversed, and had neuropathy. Results - Two groups emerged: (1) patients with profound hypoaesthesia reversed by block, but without neuropathy (27 patients), and (2) patients whose hypoaesthesia did not reverse and who had a neuropathy (13 patients). No patient with neuropathy was found whose cutaneous hypoaesthesia improved with block. The first group displayed the sensory-motor characteristics of psychogenic pseudoneuropathy. The semeiology of the second group was in keeping with organic neuropathy and displayed no pseudoneurological features. Spontaneous pain was relieved by placebo in 66.6% of the patients in group 1 and 53.8% in group 2. Conclusions - Such reversal of hypoaesthesia is due to a placebo effect, acting on a psychogenic symptom because: (a) 27 of 27 patients in which the sign occurred had absence of nerve disease behind the 'neuropathic' symptoms, (b) In 26 of 27 patients the area of hypoaesthesia was non-anatomical, (c) 16 of 27 patients had other sensory-motor signs that could not be explained as a result of organic pathology (give way weakness and punctual denial of hypoaesthesia), and (d) the phenomenon was not found in patients with organic neuropathy.

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Volumen: 65
Número: 2
Editorial: BMJ Publishing Group
Fecha de publicación: 1998
Página de inicio: 196
Página final: 203