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Is Chronic Pain Genetic?

People suffering from chronic pain understandably want to identify its underlying cause. The more we know about pain, the better we’re able to treat and prevent the suffering it may cause. Oftentimes, people wonder whether chronic pain has a genetic link. Here’s what you should know.

Do Genetics Play a Role in Chronic Pain?

Like dimples or an aversion to cilantro, many medical issues are hereditary, though often they result from a complex interplay of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors. In recent decades, researchers have begun to speculate whether chronic pain is one of these health conditions.

Causes of genetic pain span far and wide, and illness or injury are often contributing factors. A chronic condition such as arthritis may also be the source of persistent discomfort. Regardless of the root cause, recent research has indicated a common link among individuals experiencing chronic pain.

In 2014, a study presented by the American Academy of Neurology evaluated 2,721 people diagnosed with chronic pain for specific genetic traits. It revealed that certain gene variants were more common in individuals with high pain perceptions, compared to those with lower pain perceptions.

In a second report, after studying more than 8,000 sets of twins, UK researchers also identified four chronic pain conditions which have genetic risk factors. Performed by a team at the King’s College London, the study showed that dry eye disease, musculoskeletal pain, pelvic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome were common in identical twins with the same DNA. Although environmental factors still contribute to a person’s risk of these conditions, the researchers believe that genes could account for up to two-thirds of individual risk.

Thanks, Mom & Dad: How Learning About Hereditary Pain May Actually Help

While chronic pain certainly isn’t a welcome trait to be passed down through the gene pool, knowing that it can be may help doctors better understand their patients’ needs. “Our study is quite significant because it provides an objective way to understand pain and why different individuals have different pain tolerance levels,” said Dr. Tobore Onojjigohfia, author of the 2014 study. In other words: there’s now a scientific explanation why some people feel pain more intensely than others.

Interestingly, genetic links aren’t the only common factor that people with chronic pain may share. Prior research has also shown that people with chronic pain tend to have lower endorphin levels in their spinal fluid. Endorphins are hormones which, among other things, alter pain perception at many different levels in the nervous system, impacting your experience of pain. For this reason, treatments for chronic pain are sometimes geared towards activities that increase endorphin levels.

Regardless of the cause, no one deserves to suffer from chronic pain. Whether or not your family has a history of pain-related conditions, it’s important to seek effective treatment for your pain’s underlying causes. This is precisely what the team at Alliance Spine & Pain Centers aims to do. We use effective approaches to target the conditions causing your pain, leading to reduced discomfort and a better overall quality of life. Explore your options by scheduling an appointment with us online or calling (770) 929-9033.