Background: To prevent persistent post-surgery pain, early identification of patients at high risk is a clinical need. Supervised machine-learning techniques were used to test how accurately the patients' performance in a preoperatively performed tonic cold pain test could predict persistent post-surgery pain.
Methods: We analysed 763 patients from a cohort of 900 women who were treated for breast cancer, of whom 61 patients had developed signs of persistent pain during three yr of follow-up. Preoperatively, all patients underwent a cold pain test (immersion of the hand into a water bath at 2-4 °C). The patients rated the pain intensity using a numerical ratings scale (NRS) from 0 to 10. Supervised machine-learning techniques were used to construct a classifier that could predict patients at risk of persistent pain.
Results: Whether or not a patient rated the pain intensity at NRS=10 within less than 45 s during the cold water immersion test provided a negative predictive value of 94.4% to assign a patient to the "persistent pain" group. If NRS=10 was never reached during the cold test, the predictive value for not developing persistent pain was almost 97%. However, a low negative predictive value of 10% implied a high false positive rate.
Conclusions: Results provide a robust exclusion of persistent pain in women with an accuracy of 94.4%. Moreover, results provide further support for the hypothesis that the endogenous pain inhibitory system may play an important role in the process of pain becoming persistent.
Keywords: Post surgery pain; cold induced pain; human experimental pain; supervised machine-learning.
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Journal of Anaesthesia.