Poorly treated or untreated chronic pain can lead to a number of other health problems, from high blood pressure and insomnia to depression and anxiety.
Now there is evidence that chronic pain also causes brains to age more rapidly, raising the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems associated with aging.
“Our findings highlight the need to address chronic pain, not just in older individuals but in potentially everyone, as pain may have unintended consequences in the brain that we don’t yet fully understand,” said lead author Yenisel Cruz-Almeida, PhD, a researcher at the University of Florida Institute on Aging.
Over a three-year period, Cruz-Almeida and her colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the volume of gray and white matter in the brains of 47 older adults, ages 60 to 83. The volunteers were free of neurological disorders and in generally good health, although 33 of them had some type of chronic pain.
Volunteers who did not have chronic pain had brains that appeared four years younger than their actual age.
Chronic pain sufferers had brains that appeared an average of two years older. They were also more likely to have greater pain intensity, have a “less agreeable personality” and be less emotionally stable, according to researchers.
The University of Florida produced this video on the study, which was recently published online in the journal Pain.