Ask Away Blog: Why Pain Changes The Brain

Why Pain Changes The Brain

Friday, October 4, 2019



“I don’t have a pain management problem; I have a pain problem!”

When Hugh Laurie, alias Gregory House in House MD, shouted these words, the audience was about to discover the extent of his pain-induced drug issues.

House MD was built under the premises of presenting an impossible medical case to a genius doctor who would use his Sherlock Holmes-like abilities to save the day. Similar to Holmes, House also exhibits all the signs of addictive behavior. However, unlike the fictional Londoner detective, Greg House doesn’t fall into the bitter embrace of drugs out of boredom. House is in pain. The TV show goes to great lengths to show not only the most debilitating aspects of his pain – he struggles to walk long distances or even climb stairs when we first meet him –, but also how pain affects his thoughts. Cases are more challenging to diagnose when his leg hurts. Ultimately, House MD gets this right: Pain changes your brain.


Greg House, when the brain can’t function without drugs

If House MD didn’t teach you anything about Lupus, at least it highlighted the challenge of patients struggling with chronic pain. Dr. House uses Vicodin to manage his pain levels. However, he is wrong when he claims that the pain is getting worse and, therefore, forcing him to take more Vicodin. In reality, his brain is so used to the drug that he has become unable to cope without. The pain House experiences is linked to withdrawal symptoms and not physical pain. Without professional inpatient drug detox center treatment, it can be tricky to free up your brain from the influence of chemical supplements. Pain, unfortunately, can lead to drug dependence.

Pain takes over your brain

Pain is a signal that is sent to your brain. Unfortunately, in the case of chronic pain – as it could be the case during long-term medical complications, for instance – the signal is constant and can feel overwhelming. As a result, it can be distressing for patients. The pain can even feel worse as a result. However, you can use alternative medications that help the brain to manage the pain signals more effectively. Medical marijuana, for example, can help to decrease the sensation of pain.




Sometimes your brain only thinks about pain

Phantom pain is a stressful situation in which the brain remembers or creates the sensation of physical pain, even though the body doesn’t experience any of the symptoms of suffering. For amputees, feeling pain in the missing limb is a typical example of phantom pain. However, more and more doctors believe that chronic pain could be a case of the brain’s attachment to the memory of previous pain.

Ultimately pain is in the brain

Because of the strong link between the sensation of pain and the brain, scientists have been experimenting to find out whether the brain could activate a pain-killing system. Activities in a specific area of the brain, the pregenual cingulate cortex, seem to increase when the sensation of pain decreases.

For now, there is still a lot to learn about the brain and its complex responses. However, there is hope that, in the future, the use of chemical painkillers and unhealthy pain coping mechanisms could be effectively replaced through a better understanding of our brain.


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