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Chronic Pain (cont.)

Exams and Tests

Many exams and tests are used to evaluate chronic pain. The first assessment includes:

  • A detailed medical history. Your doctor will ask you about your general medical history, past illnesses, and overall health. He or she will ask you questions about your pain, previous pain episodes, how they were treated, and whether treatment was successful. Also, your doctor will note any family history of chronic pain. In order to identify activities that cause pain, how you treat pain when it occurs, and whether the treatment relieves the pain, your doctor may ask you to start keeping a pain diaryClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).
  • A physical exam. Your doctor will look for areas that are tender, weak, or numb. He or she will test your reflexes and look for other clues to the cause of your pain. Your doctor will also ask you about your daily routine and activities and if you use any aids or devices (such as a cane). A physical exam may uncover health conditions that contribute to chronic pain. As part of your physical exam, you may also have:
    • A neurologic exam to identify possible nervous system problems. You may be asked to complete a few physical tasks, such as walking up and down a hall or getting up from a chair. By checking your reflexes and your ability to feel light touch, the exam can help your doctor find out whether you have a nerve problem. The doctor may also ask you to repeat a series of numbers or to answer simple questions about dates, places, and current events.
    • A mental health assessment. This test evaluates your emotional functioning and ability to think, reason, and remember. You will be asked questions to help your doctor find out whether such conditions as depression, insomnia, or stress are contributing to or happening as a result of your chronic pain. These conditions often occur with chronic pain. You may also be asked about your use of alcohol and drugs. Answering these questions fully and honestly may help your doctor and you identify the sources of your chronic pain.
  • Diagnostic tests. These tests are often used to rule out other health conditions that can cause chronic pain. Tests may include:
    • Blood tests or other laboratory tests. A small sample of your blood is taken and then evaluated to see if you have an infection or other condition that could be causing your pain.
    • X-rays or other imaging tests (such as CT scans, MRIs, or ultrasounds). These tests take pictures of the inside structures of your body to look for disease and injury.
    • Electromyogram (EMG) and nerve conduction studies or other nerve tests. These tests measure muscle and nerve function to find out whether your chronic pain is related to muscle or nerve problems.
    • Angiogram or other vascular studies. This test injects a dye and inserts a small tube into your arteries to trace the movement of blood within your body.
    • Diagnostic nerve blocks. One example is an injection of a local anesthetic into or around a nerve to identify whether that nerve is causing the pain.
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