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Chronic Pain May Be Passed Down in Families

Chronic Pain May Be Passed Down in Families

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Professors at Arizona State University recently conducted research to determine how chronic pain is passed down in families. They wanted to understand the genetic component of chronic pain. Is it possible that chronic pain could be a product of genetics?

In the first-of-its-kind researcher, ASU aimed to find out how chronic pain is passed down. ASU psychology professor Mary Davis and Kathryn Lemery were determined to study how chronic pain develops. They were awarded $3 million from the National institute of Child Health and Human Development to study specifically, how chronic pain transmits from parent to child.

“Pain can run in families for a lot of different reasons,” Lemery-Chalfant said.

Once we understand chronic pain in a more detailed way, it allows for early interventions that Davis believes can “potentially prevent a lifetime of having to manage a chronic pain problem, or at least delay it until you’re much older.”

The idea first appeared to Davis after she read an article that linked having 0, 1 or 2 parents with chronic pain predict pain in adolescents and young adults. The article noted that adolescents who have no parents with chronic pain were at a low risk of having pain themselves compared to those with one or both parents with chronic pain. Those with two parents with chronic pain were at the highest risk.

“I read that and I thought, how can this be possible?” Davis said. “These are young people in the early, healthiest parts of their lives. How are these parents transmitting pain to these kids so early?”

Lemery-Chalfant had been studying a group of twins since birth to investigate how early environmental factors affect their development. Davis reached out to her and proposed that they use the group to look at how pain is passed in families since twins can help rule out genetic factors.

Over the next five years, the pair will survey 350 sets of twins and their families at three different intervals. During the session, they will run a series of tests to measure how much a specific factor affects both the parent’s and children’s experience of pain.

So what kind of tests are this twin’s subjected to? The answer is that it depends.  One test involves recording the children’s pain reaction to having their arm submerged in ice cold water. The test is performed twice: once with the primary caregiver present and once without the primary caregiver present. The researchers want to see if the reaction from the twin varies.  If it does, this could mean the child’s reaction to pain is influenced by their primary caregiver’s parenting style.

The primary caregiver also is given the test separately in order to measure their pain threshold. If their child has a similar pain threshold, it could mean their reaction is genetic.

Overall, this is the first study of its kind to look at all the different factors that could affect a child’s experience of pain.

“There hasn’t been a single study that looked at all of these potential mechanisms; environment, psychological factors, genetic influences, etc.,” Davis said. “That’s part of the importance of this study, is that we’re able to look at multiple mechanisms to see how this transmission takes place.”

Chronic pain is the major reason why many patients begin to seek the assistance of pain medication. It will be interested to understand the genetic component of pain and if that increases the risk of opioid dependence. What are your thoughts?

Understanding chronic pain will help with better treatment options, and further our understanding of why we all react to pain differently. What are your thoughts on pain? If you are struggling with substance abuse or any addiction, please call now. You are not alone. We want to help.

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