Phantom pain refers to pain that seems to come from a body part that's no longer there. According to experts, these are real sensations that originate in the spinal cord and brain. Phantom pain mostly occurs in people who have had an arm or leg removed, but it may arise even after surgeries to remove other body parts such as the breast, penis, eye or tongue. In some people, the pain can improve with time without any treatment, whereas in others treatment of pain can be a challenge.
The exact cause of phantom pain is not known. It probably originates in the spinal cord and brain.
During certain imaging tests on the brain such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET), this master organ shows significant changes in the functioning when an individual experiences phantom pain. It still remains a mystery that why the brain reacts in this abnormal fashion but some experts are of the opinion that an amputation causes the brain and certain sections of the spine to lose out the feedback from the amputed limb causing them to react and experience pain.
Other factors that probably contribute to phantom pain are:
Several people after amputation of a limb have a feeling that their amputated limb is still there (phantom limb). Similar feeling of phantom limb sensation has been reported by people who were born without limbs. People report feeling cold, warmth, itchiness or tingling sensation in their phantom limb.
Tests and diagnosis
Phantom pain can be defined as pain that comes from a body part that no longer remains.
The characteristics features of phantom pain are:
There are no medical tests to confirm the diagnosis of phantom pain. It is a clinical diagnosis, doctors can identify the condition by taking a comprehensive history about your symptoms and the circumstances (such as trauma or surgery) that occurred before the pain started. A precise description of your pain can help your doctor pinpoint your problem.
Your doctor will try to distinguish phantom pain from stump pain. Stump pain is caused by neuromas (nerve sprouts from the ends of damaged or cut nerves), undue compression, infection, or recurrence of the underlying disease.
Finding a correct treatment to relieve your phantom pain can be a challenge. Treatment options for phantom pain include:
There are no medications specifically for treatment of phantom pain. Drugs used for treatment of various other pains have been found to be helpful in this case.
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