Genetics May Provide More Clues to Treating Chronic Pain

One of the main services we provide at NY Neurologists is pain management. The key to providing relief to sufferers of chronic pain may lie in their genes according to a study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting this year. In defining chronic pain, we must distinguish it from acute pain. Acute pain is caused by triggers in the nervous system due to a possible injury, whereas chronic pain is consistent because pain signals are firing long after a possible injury may have occurred. Chronic pain can be caused from a continuous disease, an injury, or in people who have no history of illness or disease.

In addition to having severe headaches and back pain, people who suffer from long term discomfort could have chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, and many others. There are many different ways to treat chronic pain, such as using medication, acupuncture, electrical stimulation, and surgery. Alternatives include different forms of therapy, treatments that stimulate endorphin levels and botox treatments (pioneered by our very own Gary Starkman).

In terms of the study, researchers surveyed 2,721 patients with chronic pain and asked them to rate their level of pain on a scale of 0 to 10. Each patient was on opioid pain medications prescribed by their doctors at the time of the study. Pain was classified into different categories, with 1-3 constituting low pain perception, 4-6 being moderate pain perception, and 7-10 as high pain perception. 46% of participants reported moderate pain perception, while 45% reported high pain levels. A mere 9% of participants reported their pain as low level.

Researchers noted different gene variants that corresponded to specific pain intensity levels. The variant DRD1 was 33% more common in the low level pain group than in the high intensity pain group. Participants in the moderate pain group contained the variants COMT and OPRK, the former being 25% more common than in the high pain group and the latter being 19% more common as well. High level pain group participants contained the variant DRD2 25% more often than those in the moderate level pain group.

These studies provide significant insights into the world of chronic pain. What was once ignored by many doctors as a figment of patients’ imaginations, this happens to be a serious issue that is treated very carefully here at NY Neurologists. This allows us to understand why different people have varying levels of tolerance when it comes to pain and could aid in creating new, more effective treatments in the future. Other alternatives that have been suggested according to numerous studies conducted in 2013 including antibiotics, freezing nerves, and taking fish oil supplements. More research must be conducted in order to approve these measures so that patients might finally find relief from their chronic pain symptoms. However, these findings prove we have come a long way in determining factors that may contribute to the experience of pain. 

Gary Starkman Dr. Starkman, a top Neurologist in NYC, is the Medical Director and founder of New York Neurology Associates. He is Board Certified in Neurology with a subspecialty certification in Pain Medicine.

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