Chilling Fact: Chronic Pain Changes Your Brain

Health News
2 min read
Hindi Female

For 3 out of every 10 Indians, pain is the only constant in their lives. It is just a question of how bad it will be on any given day. There are some obvious reasons, like weather changes and stress but then sometimes it flares up for no reason. There’s no preventing chronic pain, no real control of it and mostly no cure.

India is a nation in pain. 180 million Indians are suffering from some form of arthritis or other, add to it back pain, and the 15 million fractures which happen in India every year.

Not only is it devastating and difficult to treat, pain that doesn’t quit changes the brain of the person. And rarely for the better.


The Brain Damage of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain rewires the brain. The brains of people with chronic pain shows premature aging and deterioration affecting normal functionality (Photo: iStock)

A number of studies have proved that chronic pain degenerates grey matter volume and density in critical areas of the brain and these changes can be irreversible.

An analysis of various studies done via MRIs on patients of rheumatoid arthritis to understand the physical changes which chronic pain can cause in the brain have revealed startling results. Scientists found that patients of chronic pain had almost 3.5 times less grey matter than healthy individuals and a ‘significant imbalance’ in the key chemicals like dopamine in the brain. They concluded that each year, arthritis patients lose 10 times more grey matter than they would have by the normal ageing process.

But why do some people cope better with pain than others?


Your Brain May Help You Out When You’re in Pain

Some scientists say that we all have an inbuilt pain modulation circuit which gets triggered by stress and shut down by the belief that pain relief has been provided to the brain (Photo: iStock)

A new research published in this month’s edition of the medical journal Pain explains how it’s easier for some people to deal with chronic pain than others.

A team of researchers from the University of Manchester found that more the opiate receptors an individual has, the better they are able to resist pain.

To test the theory, scientists warmed the skin of patients with a laser to measure how much pain they could withstand. They then scanned their brains with a PET scanner to count the number of opiate receptors.

They found that arthritis patients who had suffered more recent severe pain had more opiate receptors and therefore a greater ability to handle pain.

The researchers believe that if they can find out how the body increases the number of opiate receptors it would revolutionise pain relief treatments.

This was a small-scale study, the aim now is to be able to reprogramme the brain circuitry in such a way that it shuts down the areas of the brain which generate pain and alleviate the pain relieving cells.

So down-regulate the pain-perception circuitry and up-regulate pain-modulation circuitry.

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Topics:  Chronic Pain   Brain 

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