Experts warn against use of brain imaging as ‘lie detector’ for chronic pain diagnosis

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While brain imaging is widely considered to have the potential for diagnosis, prognostication, and prediction of treatment outcome in patients with chronic pain, experts are recommending against using such results in medico-legal cases.

In a new Consensus Statement, published in Nature Review: Neurology, a presidential task force of the International Association for the Study of Pain examined the capabilities of brain imaging in the diagnosis of chronic pain, and the ethical and legal implications of its use.

While there have been significant advances in brain imaging, the task force said the use of brain imaging in this context is only in a “discovery phase” and that standards of evidence must be satisfied before any brain imaging measure can be considered suitable for clinical or legal purposes.

"This technology is not foolproof," said lead author, Dr. Karen Davis. "There are vast issues of variability between people and even within a person at different times.”

The task force said that while current brain-based measures fall short of the requisite standards for legal proceedings, their use is encouraged for understanding brain mechanisms that underlie pain, factors that lead to persistence of pain, and targets for safe and effective pain control.