Study Connects Specific Genes to Patient Pain Levels

Thanks to a new study, doctors may be a little closer to helping those with chronic pain.

Study Connects Specific Genes to Patient Pain Levels

By C. Falkner Published at August 21 Views 560

An estimated 100 million Americans (and 1.5 billion people worldwide) suffer from chronic pain. Because chronic pain is a subjective, elusive, and intangible thing—you can’t count it like blood glucose and you can’t measure it like a tumor’s reduction—a huge number of people living with chronic pain struggle to communicate pain levels to their doctors. And if they can’t communicate it accurately, they often end up suffering needlessly.

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia, scientists from Scotland presented a study of 2,721 patients diagnosed with chronic pain—all of whom were taking opioids for pain relief. Patients were asked to rate their pain as low, moderate, or high on a scale from one to 10. The scientists then compared the patient’s own ratings against the presence of the following genes: COMT, DRD1, DRD2, and OPRK1.

Here are the simplified results:

DRD1 gene: 33 percent more prevalent in the low-pain group than in the high-pain group.

COMT gene: 25 percent more prevalent in the moderate-pain group than in the high-pain group.

OPRK1 gene: 19 percent more prevalent in the moderate-pain group than in the high-pain group.

DRD2 gene: 25 percent more prevalent in the high-pain group than those with moderate pain.

Study leader Tobore Onojjighofia said, “Our study is quite significant, because it provides an objective way to understand pain and why different individuals have different tolerance levels. Identifying whether a person has these four genes could help doctors better understand a patient's perception of pain. Finding genes that may play a role in pain perception could provide a target for developing new therapies."

What does this mean for you today?

In reality, genetic testing of this type is a long way from being commonplace at your neighborhood doctor’s office. But it is a small beacon of hope on the horizon for chronic pain sufferers, whose numbers will only continue to grow. If researchers can identify the genes associated with specific pain levels, it might one day give both you and your doctor a more accurate way to understand your needs and tailor a care program that works. And, maybe in the future, knowing the identity of these genes will allow researchers to turn these pain genes off entirely.

Most of all, perhaps this study is a clarion call to researchers, scientists, and doctors: The more we can understand the personal experience of chronic pain (even on a genetic level), the better we can treat it and improve the lives of the 1.5 billion people all over the world in chronic pain.

If genetic testing of this type were available to help you, would you want to do it? Why or why not? What if you had to pay an out-of-pocket amount? Add your comments below and join the discussion!

To learn more about chronic pain:

Going to the Doctor? Why You Need to Take a Friend
Saying Goodbye to Your Doctor? 7 Steps To Communicating with Confidence
Tips to Take on Chronic Pain Challenges

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