Eija Kalso


MD, PhD and Associate Professor in Anaesthesiology

The Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation Professor of Pain Medicine, University of Helsinki

Vice Dean with responsibility for Bilingual Affairs of the Faculty of Medicine


As a researcher, Professor Eija Kalso studies pain and the treatment of pain. She is a member of several research groups and also acts as the supervisor of PhD students studying pain. We met with her and asked the following questions.

Can pain be measured?

Pain is always a subjective experience that depends not only on damage to tissue or the nervous system, but also on the patients’ earlier experiences with pain and their expectations, genes, psyche, and motivations. Pain can be measured in the laboratory by registering the activity of the brain as a person undergoes a pain stimulus. In everyday life, patients can simply be asked about how much pain they are experiencing. In order to monitor the treatment of pain, several simple pain meters have been developed.

What happens if pain goes untreated?

Untreated tissue or nerve damage can lead to chronic pain. Chronic pain, in turn, can cause sleep disturbances and depression, as well as a decrease in the quality of one’s life. Pain and anxiety usually go hand in hand, and anxiety is definitely an important predisposing factor of prolonged pain.

How important is a positive attitude in the treatment of pain?

In the study of pain, it has become clear that cognitive factors are important, as are the possibilities they offer for dealing with pain.  Changing negative expectations to positive ones is a great help in treating pain. This step can reinforce the alleviation of pain. In general, it can be said that the better the physician knows the mind of the patient, the treatment being given, and also believes in its scientifically proven effectiveness, the better he or she can effectively treat pain.

What types of research projects are you currently involved in?

Our research group is currently attempting to determine the factors related to prolonged pain (psychological factors, genes). Our objective is to develop a meter (a questionnaire) with which to assess the risk of pain becoming a chronic condition. With the help of this questionnaire, we hope to determine which patients will probably develop pain following trauma or surgery. These patients can then be treated with preventive psychological or pharmacological methods.