Harmful effects of stress may be key to managing chronic pain

Published on February 25, 2013 at 7:26 AM · No Comments

This study included 16 patients with chronic back pain and a control group of 18 healthy subjects. The goal was to analyze the relationships between four factors: 1) cortisol levels, which were determined with saliva samples; 2) the assessment of clinical pain reported by patients prior to their brain scan (self-perception of pain); 3) hippocampal volumes measured with anatomical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); and 4) brain activations assessed with functional MRI (fMRI) following thermal pain stimulations. The results showed that patients with chronic pain generally have higher cortisol levels than healthy individuals. 

Data analysis revealed that patients with a smaller hippocampus have higher cortisol levels and stronger responses to acute pain in a brain region involved in anticipatory anxiety in relation to pain. The response of the brain to the painful procedure during the scan partly reflected the intensity of the patient's current clinical pain condition. These findings support the chronic pain vulnerability model in which people with a smaller hippocampus develop a stronger stress response, which in turn increases their pain and perhaps their risk of suffering from chronic pain. This study also supports stress management interventions as a treatment option for chronic pain sufferers.

Source: Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal

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