Multilevel Pain Assessment with Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy: Evaluating ΔHBO2 and ΔHHB Measures for Comprehensive Analysis


Assessing pain in non-verbal patients is challenging, often depending on clinical judgment which can be unreliable due to fluctuations in vital signs caused by underlying medical conditions. To date, there is a notable absence of objective diagnostic tests to aid healthcare practitioners in pain assessment, especially affecting critically-ill or advanced dementia patients. Neurophysiological information, i.e., functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) or electroencephalogram (EEG), unveils the brain’s active regions and patterns, revealing the neural mechanisms behind the experience and processing of pain. This study focuses on assessing pain via the analysis of fNIRS signals combined with machine learning, utilising multiple fNIRS measures including oxygenated haemoglobin (ΔHBO2) and deoxygenated haemoglobin (ΔHHB). Initially, a channel selection process filters out highly contaminated channels with high-frequency and high-amplitude artifacts from the 24-channel fNIRS data. The remaining channels are then preprocessed by applying a low-pass filter and common average referencing to remove cardio-respiratory artifacts and common gain noise, respectively. Subsequently, the preprocessed channels are averaged to create a single time series vector for both ΔHBO2 and ΔHHB measures. From each measure, ten statistical features are extracted and fusion occurs at the feature level, resulting in a fused feature vector. The most relevant features, selected using the Minimum Redundancy Maximum Relevance method, are passed to a Support Vector Machines classifier. Using leave-one-subject-out cross validation, the system achieved an accuracy of 68.51%±9.02% in a multi-class task (No Pain, Low Pain, and High Pain) using a fusion of ΔHBO2 and ΔHHB. These two measures collectively demonstrated superior performance compared to when they were used independently. This study contributes to the pursuit of an objective pain assessment and proposes a potential biomarker for human pain using fNIRS.