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How Genetics Play a Role in Chronic Pain

The topic of chronic pain is a sensitive subject. Currently, 1 in 5 Canadians report suffering from chronic pain. Chronic pain costs the Canadian economy $50-$60 billion annually, and is the number one reason for seeking health care. Many cases are linked to traumatic experiences, such as a physical or occupational trauma, or psychological distress; however not everyone who develops chronic pain can link it to a specific event.

It’s a difficult ailment to diagnose and treat because the only person who can truly experience the level of discomfort associated with their pain is the individual themselves. Chronic pain has insinuated to be heritable in some cases, and research indicates that a genetic predisposition may be to blame.

Our genes also play a large role in our resistance to various medications and the efficacy of various treatment methods. With recent genetic advances, we may be able to hone in on precisely what genes are most responsible for chronic pain, and therefore identify different, more operative treatments surrounding them.

In regards to the development of chronic pain, roughly 50% of cases are a result of post-operative complications, resulting in persistent pain. Pain is a complex problem to treat because the level of intensity is subjective and can vary on individuals even under nearly identical circumstances.

Pain testing on animals has paved the way for many developments in this field of study. For example, a recent study on mice concluded that the CACGN2 gene could be held responsible for regulating chronic pain, a gene previously shown to be involved in altering the brain during epileptic episodes.

The same gene was shown to affect breast cancer patients with their chronic pain levels after surgery. The CACGN2 gene however, isn’t the only inheritable factor that could have an influence on chronic pain management. Sensory genes like COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase), ADRB2 (beta 2 adrenergic receptor) and GCH1 (GTP hydrolase) are linked to chronic pain, as well as genes that are associated with the relationship between psychological stress and the development of chronic pain.

Although these genetics have been linked to the development of pain disorders and an individual’s sensitivity to pain, the results are inconsistent, and more large scale studies are required to confirm the validity of these claims.

Different medications react varyingly due to an individual’s genetic profile. Genetic testing may be able to determine which medications will work for or against the patient, and can further create more advantageous strategies and solutions to treat a person’s unique pain. Predicting which genes alter a physical and cerebral alteration on chronic pain will convey further advancements into discovering which treatment methods will reign most effective.

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