Amber Alert

Does Pain Wear Out Your Brain?

If you sit in your driveway and rev up your car a lot, you put a lot of wear and tear on certain parts of your car. Those parts are apt to wear out long before other parts, right? It's pretty simple logic.

Now apply that logic to your brain. When you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or another type of chronic pain, all those pain signals keep certain parts of your brain revved up all the time. So does that mean we're wearing out our brains?

It appears so, according to research published in the Feb. 6 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. They say that could be why we have to deal with things like short-term memory problems, decision making, irritability, mood swings, depression, etc.

Researchers used functional MRI to compare the brains of pain-free people (lucky souls!) with chronic-pain patients as they watched a moving bar on a computer screen. The scans showed that in healthy people, brain activity is balanced. Essentially, when you use one area, the other areas kind of take a back seat. But in people with chronic pain, one area - which is mostly associated with emotion - just never quiets down. That, researchers say, wears out your neurons and alters the way they communicate with each other - or it could even kill the neurons.

This is the first time we've seen a difference in brain activity between us and them that wasn't directly related to how we feel pain. The researchers say this shows that it's essential to study new approaches to pain treatment that not only control pain, but also prevent pain's effects on your brain.

Does this make sense to you? Does it give you hope that we could someday have a better treatment - even prevention - for our cognitive symptoms?

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