Does Chronic Pain Affect the Immune System?

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Does Chronic Pain Affect the Immune System?

May 11, 2020


Pain management doctors become increasingly aware that different systems in the body interact to cause and sustain pain. The nervous system interacts with the immune system.

Michael Salter, a pain researcher at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, spoke at the 2018 North American Pain School to understand how these two schemes interact. Results from studies in mice show that chronic pain is caused by microglia, known as the central nervous system immune cell (brain and spinal cord).

The basics of the pain system must first to be understood. Nerve cells (neurons), known as adversaries, relay information to the spinal cord about potential bodily threats – such as high heat or hazardous substances. In the event of the receipt of this information by neurons on the spinal cord in the form of electrical signaling, they can turn up or down the signal and check that the signal is being transmitted to the brain. Salter showed that microglia in the spinal cord can amplify the signal from the nociceptors during the development of chronic pain after nerve damage. When the signal reaches the brain, an experience of pain may culminate.

Current stress and chronic pain can affect immune function. Chronic pain can reprogram how the genes work in the immune system, according to research carried out at laboratory mice at McGill University. Indeed, the way in which DNA is noted in special immune cells called T cells appears to be changing chronic pain promptly. Although it is unclear how much these changes affect the capacity of these T cells for infections, it appears that these important infection fighters have a strong connection between chronic pain and the changes in the DNA marker.

Ongoing experience of pain can certainly trigger stress, which can lead to long-term affect in the body if the pain remains chronic. Consider stress response as a combination of changes in the neurological, endocrine and immune systems to help the body avoid a perceived risk or threat. The level of the hormone cortisol will start to rise if the stress reaction continues. The decline in the function of the immune system involves long-term elevation of cortisol levels. For example, older caregivers have shown lower immune cell levels such as lymphocytes, slower wound cures and are more vulnerable to viral infections.

Senior woman suffering from backache at home

Patients receiving immunosuppressive treatments with painful autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, are also at higher risk of infection. Immunocompromising agents inhibit the natural immune response of the body by their very nature.

Chronic pain may also be linked to other chronic illnesses which affect immune system efficacy. Factors related to pain, such as stress and prolonged inactivity, can lead to body changes that increase blood pressure and promote weight gain, which, in turn, become risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and others. In fact, the incidence of cardiomyopathies in chronic pain has been found to be significantly higher.

Do what you can to minimize the stress response to your body to limit the effect of pain on your immune system. Consider calming an overly anxious nervous system with simple relaxation techniques, like breathing, meditation, gentle yoga, or maybe learning special techniques from a psychologist or therapist. Other ways to reduce stress include exercise, fresh air, a funny movie, and just unplugging your appliances.

Be in touch with the pain management doctors in OKC to get rid of chronic pain. In our Oklahoma Pain Doc, we help to manage chronic pain even in the worst condition.

**Disclaimer: This content should not be considered medical advice and does not imply a doctor-patient relationship.

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