Traumatic stress may alter pain sensitivity

Traumatic stress may alter pain sensitivity Fri Jan 5, 2007 2:37 PM ET – NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show reduced sensitivity to pain, and altered pain processing may be responsible, according to findings from a new study.

PTSD may be best known as a consequence of combat exposure, but people can also develop the disorder after suffering other types of trauma, such as a car crash or personal assault. Symptoms include flashbacks to the incident, nightmares, sleep problems, depression, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

Previous studies have produced conflicting results regarding pain perception in PTSD patients, with some showing increased sensitivity and others showing the opposite.

The present study, which is reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, involved 12 male veterans with PTSD and 12 matched veterans without PTSD. Brain images were obtained while various temperatures were applied to the subjects’ hands, and they were asked to rate the pain experienced.

When exposed to the same temperatures, PTSD patients rated them as being less painful than did the comparison group, Dr. Elbert Geuze, from the Central Military Hospital in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and colleagues report. Similarly, the temperatures that elicited the same subjective pain rating were higher in participants with PTSD than in the others.

During testing, PTSD subjects displayed increased or decreased activation of several different regions of the brain, compared with the veterans without PTSD.

All of these brain regions are associated with pain processing, the authors note.

The findings, overall, reflect “altered pain regulation mechanisms in patients with PTSD,” the investigators conclude.

SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, January 2007.

© Reuters 2007.

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