Widespread Pain May Originate In the Brain, According To Study

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Pain is the most common reason people turn to medical care, and now research suggests people with a variety of chronic pain conditions have similar changes in their brain.

“Sometimes we can easily pinpoint what is causing a person pain,” said Richard Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and rheumatology at Michigan Medicine. “But, there are still 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from persistent pain that is not easily identifiable.”

To look at what underlies widespread pain, Harris and colleagues examined brain data from participants in a chronic pelvic pain study, and compared it to data from fibromyalgia patients, and people without pain. The researchers wanted to determine whether widespread pain, usually associated with centralization in the nervous system, actually originates in the brain.

Participants in the pelvic pain study drew on a body map where they experienced pain, and many of them indicted they felt pain distributed throughout their bodies. A subset of these participants then underwent functional and structural MRIs.

“Interestingly, when we put these individuals into the brain imaging scanner, we found that those who had widespread pain had increased gray matter and brain connectivity within sensory and motor cortical areas, when compared to pain-free controls,” says Harris.

It surprised the investigators that the changes in gray matter volume and functional connectivity were the same as those found in fibromyalgia patients.

“This study represents the fact that pelvic pain patients, a subset of them, have characteristics of fibromyalgia,” says Harris. “Not only do they have widespread pain, but also they have brain markers indistinguishable from fibromyalgia patients.”

The researchers hope their study prompts physicians to consider new ways of treating chronic pain patients, owed to the similarities among conditions with widespread pain.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: Engin Erdogan


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Fibromyalgia is a prevalent condition that affects many people in the United States. Approximately 3.7 million Americans have Fibromyalgia. That is 1 in every 73 people.

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