Does It Hurt?
April 22, 2014

Does It Hurt?

Everyone handles pain differently. For some, its an everyday part of life and they have little choice but to bear with it and to carry on while others are so afraid of it that they down pain pills like Skittles or M&M candy every time they stub their toe or think they might have a headache coming on. The reason that people treat pain differently is because everyone has their own tolerance for pain. Be it from natural resilience or many previous experiences, some people are just better able to deal with pain than others. Call it lucky if you want, but pain is pain all the same. Being able to deal with it does not mean that you do not feel it. The phrase “grin and bear it” exemplifies what most people with a higher tolerance for pain deal with. Even so, why is it that some people have this seemingly innate ability to deal with pain more effectively than others? Would you believe that it could be in your genes?

A new study conducted by Tobore Onojjighofia, MD, MPH, of Proove Biosciences and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, and a team of researchers recently uncovered that the DRD1 gene may be a key in being able to resist pain. In their study, they evaluated 2,721 subjects who were all diagnosed with chronic pain and taking prescription opioid pain medications. Each of these participants was asked to rate their perception of pain on a scale from one to then. From these, any who rated their pain as a zero were discounted for the purposes of this study. Otherwise, ratings of one, two, and three were defined as those with a low pain perception (read: high pain tolerance) while those with ratings of four, five, and six were labeled as having moderate pain perception (average pain tolerance) and those who rated their pain as seven or higher were deemed to have a high pain perception (little tolerance for pain). Nine percent of their study group was said to have low pain perception, 46 percent had moderate pain perception, and 45 percent had high pain perception.

The research team then looked at a number of genes that are believed to have some connection to our ability to both perceive and resist pain. These genes were COMT, DRD2, DRD1, and OPRK1. The gene variant DRD1 was 33 percent more common in the group with low pain perception than in the high pain perception group. Among the group who were believed to have a moderate resistance to pain it was shown that the COMT and OPRK variants were 25 and 19 percent more common than in those who had little resistance to pain. Finally, the DRD2 gene variant was 25 percent more common in the group with high pain perception (low pain tolerance) than in the group with moderate pain perception.

According to Dr. Onojjighofia, “Our study is quite significant because it provides an objective way to understand pain and why different individuals have different pain tolerance levels. Identifying whether a person has these four genes could help doctors better understand a patient’s perception of pain.”

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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