ROCHESTER, N.Y. – For more than 100 million Americans, treating chronic pain can be frustrating. Unlike acute pain, chronic pain persists for weeks, months and sometimes years after an injury and may require patients to take dangerously addictive drugs to combat the dull aching and discomfort. However, researchers believe they may be on the verge of a treatment that could eliminate chronic pain from our medical encyclopedias.
Dopamine, a chemical commonly found in the brain, is usually associated with movement and memory but it could also be the key to treating chronic pain for millions of people, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas.
The researchers traced pain signals between the spinal cord and the brain in lab mice. They discovered removing groups of dopamine-saturated cells reduced chronic pain. Their hope is that a similar treatment could be just as effective in humans.
“Many people who have been in a car accident or suffered a workplace injury can experience severe chronic pain for the rest of their life,” personal injury attorney Ross Cellino said. “Chronic pain can sometimes factor into how much of a settlement a person can get after an accident because of the extreme costs associated with treating the pain for years or even the remainder of a lifetime.”
In people who experience this condition, nerve cells relay pain signals to the brain, even when there is no injury present. Why? Doctors and scientists are currently trying to answer that question and while they all have theories, the exact cause of chronic pain is unknown.
Current treatments for chronic pain are often expensive and many doctors hesitate to prescribe medications because some of the drugs can be considered very addictive. Drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl are common opiate pain relievers used to treat chronic pain but doctors are usually encouraged to try other treatments before prescribing opioids.
“Not only are some of these drugs highly addictive but they can also impair a person’s judgement, which could cause more accidents if these medications are not used as directed,” Cellino said.
Researchers said the study of dopamine-saturated cells should eventually lead to more effective, and cost-saving treatments.
The Institute of Medicine estimates chronic pain contributes to more than $600 billion in medical costs and lost productivity each year.