As noted in previous blogs, chronic pain not only affects your physical body, it also has other secondary effects. Most notably, sleep deprivation and psychological disorders (such as depression or anxiety) seem to be the most prevalent and debilitating side effects of chronic pain. Many researchers have considered these interactions and took their studying a step further to examine how all of these relationships affect the brain.
Specifically, scientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine studied these interactions and found that, in patients with chronic pain, the emotional center of the brain is in constant overdrive. This, in turn, deactivates other parts of the brain and changes neural connections and wiring. Constant overfiring of some neurons while little to no activation of other neurons could lead to permanent damage and changes in the brain. For example, it may be harder for a patient with chronic pain to make rational decisions or make them more likely to suffer from mood disorders. Implications of this study are to have physicians not only help chronic pain to manage their chronic pain, but also to help identify possible areas of cognitive dysfunction as a result of the pain and treat those areas as well.