The diagnosis of pain that cannot be subjected to scientific testing, and the subsequent emotional suffering of the patient are being examined by researchers at the University of Cincinnati.
The research by Elizabeth Sweeney, a doctoral candidate in UC's Department of Sociology, analysed more than 20 articles randomly selected from the peer-reviewed international academic journal, PAIN, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain.
Sweeney examined the journal's content to determine how pain is measured and defined in terms of type of pain, location of pain, its causes, severity, duration, response to treatment, methods of detection and symptoms.
Because of these evidence-based diagnostic tests, the paper states that sufferers of chronic pain - conditions that frequently cannot be localized or pointed out on a scan or test - are often put in the position of defending the legitimacy or the reality of their condition.
Examples of these chronic pain sufferers of unexplained or "contested" illnesses can include patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), fibromyalgia and Gulf War Syndrome.
"It is apparent from this research that the missing link in much of biomedical research is any viable attempt to understand the subjective experience of pain," wrote Sweeney.
"A diagnosis, simple though it may seem, constitutes not only the legitimacy of one's illness, but also the validation of one's sanity and honor - evidence that the patient is not psychologically unstable and is not 'faking' it," added Sweeney.
Demonstrating the challenges that pain and chronic pain pose to Western medicine, Sweeney concluded that deconstructing biomedical research on pain will better pave pathways of understanding in diagnosing and treating chronic pain sufferers.
The study was presented at the 105th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Atlanta.