A new review of brain imaging studies on patients with chronic pain discusses recent findings showing that after several years of suffering and enduring chronic pain there are functional, chemical and structural changes to the brain.
The review of this growing literature poses the question as to whether chronic pain should be treated as a disease in its own right, rather than as a symptom.
The review, published in the Journal of Pain, outlines and addresses the complexities involved in chronic pain, and raises the issue that improvements in the assessment and management of pain for the 7.8 million people in the UK who have to live with chronic pain are desperately needed.
"Improving our understanding of chronic pain and its mechanisms will lead to better treatments that hopefully will enable people to regain their independence as well as significantly enhance their quality of life", said Professor Irene Tracey, co-author of the article and Director of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB) Centre and Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetic Science at the University of Oxford.
Professors Tracey and Bushnell reviewed a number of functional, structural and molecular brain imaging studies on patients suffering chronic pain, even if the underlying cause of the pain differed, examining conditions such as: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis of the knee and stroke pain.
Although these painful conditions affect a range of different parts of the body, similar changes were observed in the brain and the authors examine the evidence against the current definition of a disease.
"I had chronic pain and IBS, and after much web searching, I came across information that potassium increases peristalsis and has an impact on pain so I started taking it. It improved my IBS although did not cure it but did get rid of my chronic pain. I do take quite a bit though. I worked out the amount I was getting in my diet and the rda and made up the difference with a supplement, gradually increasing the dose. I feel much better now" - RS, UK