A brain region controlling whether we feel happy or sad, as well as addiction, is remodeled by chronic pain, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.
And in a significant breakthrough for the millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain, scientists have developed a new treatment strategy that restores this region and dramatically lessens pain symptoms in an animal model.
The new treatment combines two FDA-approved drugs: a Parkinson's drug, L-dopa, and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. The combined drugs target brain circuits in the nucleus accumbens and completely eliminate chronic pain behavior when administered to rodents with chronic pain. The key is administering the drugs together and shortly after an injury.
As a result of the study's findings, the scientists are pursuing a clinical trial. The treatment has the potential to prevent chronic pain if used early enough after injury, the scientists said.
The study will be published December 21 in Nature Neuroscience.
'It was surprising to us that chronic pain actually rewires the part of the brain controlling whether you feel happy or sad," said corresponding author D. James Surmeier, chair of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "By understanding what was causing these changes, we were able to design a corrective therapy that worked remarkably well in the models. The question now is whether it will work in humans."
"The study shows you can think of chronic pain as the brain getting addicted to pain," said A. Vania Apkarian, also a corresponding author and a professor of physiology at Feinberg. "The brain circuit that has to do with addiction has gotten involved in the pain process itself."
A group of neurons thought to be responsible for negative emotions became hyper-excitable and more strongly connected with other regions of the brain linked to feeling bad within days after an injury that triggers chronic pain behavior, the study showed. It went on to show this change was triggered by a drop in dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter.
When scientists administered the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug and L-dopa, which raises dopamine levels, the changes in the brain were reversed and the animals' chronic pain behavior stopped.
"These results establish chronic pain cannot be viewed as a purely sensory phenomenon but instead is closely related to emotions," Apkarian said.
Modern medicine in the Western world relies primarily on treating existing illnesses with drugs or unnecessary procedures and a quick turnaround in the doctor's office in order to treat more people. In the midst of all this hectic chaos, doctors will skim over a patient's record and medical history, get a mere glimpse into their emotional lives, and leave mental health care to the side.
But Dr. Ronald Epstein, a University of Rochester professor, wants to change the way doctors approach their patients. Suffering is seen in all corners of hospitals and medical centers — from the emotional pain of a mother who just lost an unborn baby to an older man facing a terminal illness, yet doctors often don't address it.
In a new essay published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Epstein and a co-author, oncologist Anthony Back of the University of Washington, reviewed medical literature on the ways doctors approach suffering. They found that an approach to suffering is rarely discussed in the medical world, and that this needs to change.
"Physicians can have a pivotal role in addressing suffering if they can expand how they work with patients," the authors wrote. "Some people can do this instinctively, but most physicians need training in how to respond to suffering — yet this kind of instruction is painfully lacking."
Epstein and Back note that physicians can improve their approach by listening to the patient and learning about his/her experience. In addition to the typical "diagnosing and treating," the authors argue that doctors should also "turn toward" the patient, and recognize their suffering. They can do that by asking questions like, "What's the worst part of this for you?" Sometimes an acknowledgment that their pain is real, and that it matters to someone, is all a patient needs to open up.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announces the opening of a docket to obtain public comment on the draft CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain (Guideline). The Guideline provides recommendations regarding initiation or continuation of opioids for chronic pain; opioid selection, dosage, duration, follow-up, and discontinuation; and assessment of risk and addressing harms of opioid use. The Guideline is intended to be used by primary care providers (e.g., family physicians or internists) who are treating patients with chronic pain (i.e., pain lasting longer than 3 months or past the time of normal tissue healing) in outpatient settings. The draft Guideline is intended to apply to patients aged 18 years of age or older with chronic pain outside of palliative and end-of-life care. The Guideline is not intended to apply to patients in treatment for active cancer. The Guideline is not a federal regulation; adherence to the Guideline will be voluntary.
CDC developed the draft Guideline to provide recommendations about opioid prescribing for primary care providers who are treating adult patients with chronic pain in outpatient settings, outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care. The draft Guideline summarizes scientific knowledge about the effectiveness and risks of long-term opioid therapy, and provides recommendations for when to initiate or continue opioids for chronic pain; opioid selection, dosage, duration, follow-up, and discontinuation; and assessing risk and addressing harms of opioid use. The draft Guideline identifies important gaps in the literature where further research is needed.
To develop the recommendations, CDC conducted a systematic review on benefits and harms of opioids and developed the draft Guideline using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) framework. CDC drafted recommendations and consulted with experts on the evidence to inform the recommendations. CDC hosted webinars in September 2015 and also provided opportunities for stakeholder and peer review of the draft Guideline. The Guideline is not a federal regulation; adherence to the Guideline will be voluntary. For additional information on prescription drug overdose, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/prescribing/guideline.html.
Supporting and Related Material in the Docket
The docket contains the following supporting and related materials to help inform public comment: The Guideline; the Clinical Evidence Review Appendix; the Contextual Evidence Review Appendix; and three documents that comprise the Comment Summaries and CDC Responses (Constituent Comment Summary, Peer Review Summary, and Stakeholder Review Group Summary). The Clinical Evidence Review Appendix and the Contextual Evidence Review Appendix include primary evidence, studies, and data tables that were used by CDC to develop the recommendations in the Guideline. The Constituent Comment Summary reflects input obtained in response to webinars hosted on September 16 and September 17, 2015, during which CDC shared an overview of the development process and draft recommendation statements. The Stakeholder Review Group Summary also reflects input obtained from stakeholders (comprised of professional and community organizations) following their review of a prior draft of the Guideline. Finally, the Peer Review Summary reflects input obtained from three scientific peer reviewers following their review of a draft of the full Guideline, along with a summary of comments received and CDC responses.
At least 36 million Americans suffer from migraines, and while more and more medical professionals are on the case, they have never found satisfactory answers for why the pain starts, let alone how to make it end.
Lately, it seems I can't attend a gathering of friends without at least one complaining about headaches, and another offering advice: It's your glasses, your diet or, the old standby, your stress level. Regarding the latter, let me say that a friend and I once spent four days at a spa, doing nothing but exercise classes and beauty treatments, and we were still popping pills for our pounding heads nonstop.
Over the last few decades, migraines (intensely painful headaches that make it difficult to function and are often accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting) have become big business. Billions of dollars are spent annually on over-the-counter and prescription remedies, as well as visits to the increasing number of specialized clinics and hospital departments around the country. Even dermatologists, dentists and non-Western holistic practitioners are getting in on the action.
A woman born incapable of feeling pain has been hurt for the first time – thanks to a drug normally prescribed for opioid overdoses. She was burned with a laser, and quite liked the experience.
The breakthrough may lead to powerful new ways to treat painful conditions such as arthritis.
Only a handful people around the world are born unable to feel pain. These individuals can often suffer a range of injuries when they are young. Babies with the condition tend to chew their fingers, toes and lips until they bleed, and toddlers can suffer an increased range of knocks, tumbles and encounters with sharp or hot objects.
The disorder is caused by a rare genetic mutation that results in a lack of ion channels that transport sodium across sensory nerves. Without these channels, known as Nav1.7 channels, nerve cells are unable to communicate pain. Researchers quickly sought to make compounds that blocked Nav1.7 channels, thinking they might be able to block pain in people without the disorder.
"It looked like a fantastic drug target," says John Wood at University College London. "Pharma companies went bananas and made lots of drugs." But while a few compounds saw some success, none brought about the total pain loss seen in people who lack the channel naturally.
To find out why, Wood and his colleagues studied mice that had been genetically modified to lack Nav1.7. These animals don't feel pain, either – they show no reaction when their tails are exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures, for example.
A closer analysis of the rodents' nerves showed that mice lacking Nav1.7 had a huge increase in the expression of genes responsible for opioid peptides, the body's natural painkiller. The mice seem to be making more of these pain-relieving peptides, which might explain why people lacking the channel don't feel pain, either.