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September 21, 2012
Pain is a very common symptom of many disorders, traumas and diseases. Regardless of whether it is caused by a simple cut or a disease like type 2 diabetes, pain brings a lot of discomfort. Pain can be acute and chronic, and the difference between these two types can be defined by duration of pain. Living with chronic pain disorder is sometimes very hard, even if a patient uses the most advanced palliatives and painkillers. Unfortunately, chronic pains are very often accompanied with pathological changes making the condition worse and worse. A great deal of studies and researches have been carried out in order to better understand the nature and possibly effectively manage chronic pain. It was found out that chronic pain disorder is affected by a series of factors of physiological (trauma, damage, etc.), biological (anatomical alterations, neurochemical changes, etc.) and social (disability, depression, social isolation, etc.) nature. In most cases, chronic pains change the life of sufferers and interfere with all three mentioned spheres of their lives.
It is interesting that chronic paints that we feel can depend on our emotional reactions to injury, disease, or other cause of pain. Those are the findings of a scientific team from Northwestern University in Chicago, US, published this summer in one of the issues of the journal Nature Neuroscience. The main objective of their study was to find out an answer to the question why some people respond in different ways to the same kind of injury: some manage to achieve total recovery, and some remain in chronic pains for quite long periods of time. To find out the links and estimate the probabilities whether an injury or trauma will lead to chronic pain disorder, the scientists analyzed brain scans of 40 volunteers, the patients with various types of spine and back injuries. All of them suffered from prolonged back pains lasting from one to four months. For one year of the research, four brain scans on every participant were made.
It turned out that there are very strong communication connections between two parts of human brain, nucleus accumbens and the frontal cortex, so when the trauma or injury occurs and the patient starts feeling pain, the intensity of emotional reactions on this pain define how mush persistent and long pain is going to be. In other words, those of the patients who have stronger emotional reactions on pains have higher chances to suffer from chronic pain disorder compared to those patients with less emotional brain reactions.
According to Professor Vania Apkarian, an expert team leader and a professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, physical effects of trauma or injury are not the only factors defining pain duration and persistence, but only a combination of the injury and the state of brain. Moreover, the scientists are convinced that the brain reaction can even play more important role than the injury itself. “It may be that these sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level,” Apkarian said. The expert says that by knowing more about the connections between the two parts of the brain of a person right after receiving a trauma or injury, it is possible to predict if chronic pain disorder is going to develop or not with quite a high accuracy: up to 85 per cent.
It is estimated that in today’s United States, between 30 and 40 million people are suffering from chronic pain, and chronic back pain is the most common type of this disorder. According to the scientist, “Chronic pain is one of the most expensive health care conditions in the U.S., yet there still is not a scientifically validated therapy for this condition.” Apkarian said that this was the first study to find the connections between chronic pain disorder and emotional reactions of patients on traumas, and further studies are planned to prove a scientifically valid cause-and-effect relationship between these two factors. Find more information about the research, its authors and their findings in this report.
Author Info: Hi! My name is Carla and I am a 5th year medical student at HYMS. I am interested in alternative medicine and I have done months researching the topic of herbal medicine. Besides, I like interviewing people and learning more about their experiences with one or another type of herbal treatments. I am willing to contribute to this site with my knowledge, and I would be happy to help you out to the best of my ability with any specific questions or problems related to alternative medicine.