Increased theta band EEG power in sickle cell disease patients

J Pain Res. 2017 Dec 27;11:67-76. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S145581. eCollection 2018.


Objective: Pain is a major issue in the care of patients with sickle cell disease (SCD). The mechanisms behind pain and the best way to treat it are not well understood. We studied how electroencephalography (EEG) is altered in SCD patients.

Methods: We recruited 20 SCD patients and compared their resting state EEG to that of 14 healthy controls. EEG power was found across frequency bands using Welch's method. Electrophysiological source imaging was assessed for each frequency band using the eLORETA algorithm.

Results: SCD patients had increased theta power and decreased beta2 power compared to controls. Source localization revealed that areas of greater theta band activity were in areas related to pain processing. Imaging parameters were significantly correlated to emergency department visits, which indicate disease severity and chronic pain intensity.

Conclusion: The present results support the pain mechanism referred to as thalamocortical dysrhythmia. This mechanism causes increased theta power in patients.

Significance: Our findings show that EEG can be used to quantitatively evaluate differences between controls and SCD patients. Our results show the potential of EEG to differentiate between different levels of pain in an unbiased setting, where specific frequency bands could be used as biomarkers for chronic pain.

Keywords: chronic pain; electroencephalography; electrophysiological source imaging; sickle cell disease; thalamocortical dysrhythmia.