Living With Chronic Pain Can Disrupt Your Emotions at a Chemical Level, Study Hints

The grey matter behind your forehead is currently calculating whether or not you should be happy. If you experience chronic pain, the likelihood of feeling one emotion more than the other is higher.Research has shown that pain can affect the way the prefrontal lobe processes emotion. This is why we see more anxiety and depression as a result of disruptions in the way cells communicate.Sylvia Gustin is a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of New South Wales. NeuRA is an Australian neurological research institute.It can alter our beliefs, feelings, and how we feel about ourselves.Gustin was the senior author in a new study that used advanced imaging techniques and scanned for concentrations of a particular neurotransmitter among volunteers who had or did not have a history chronic pain.Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a key player in brain signaling. It keeps a close eye on neural activity across the entire nervous system.GABA's dampening action acts in the brain's prefrontal cortex as a form traffic control. It limits communication with other areas such as the amygdala. This signal system works in harmony with glutamate, a stimulating neurotransmitter. It ensures that our emotions are kept motivated at the right times without causing undue stress.Sometimes, we can view difficult situations as an opportunity to let our emotions run wild. This could either encourage us to seek help or give us a break.In pain, animal studies have shown significant differences in glutamate levels in the medial region of the prefrontal cortex. In humans suffering from chronic pain, glutamate levels have been shown to decrease in tandem with an increase in emotional regulation.Despite changes in GABA levels being observed in mice, the link between GABA and human bodies has not been established.It could help us to understand how neurotransmitters are responsible for our deep anxiety and provide insight into new ways of helping us manage our moods.Brain scans showed significant differences in GABA levels between chronic pain patients and those without.Although the number of volunteers is not large, it's enough to support the idea that long-term pain can alter how our brain processes emotions and lower inhibitions."We discovered for the first time that chronic pain is linked to a decrease of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, in the medial frontal cortex. Gustin says that this means there is a real pathological change.GABA is the key to amplifying computations in our frontal brain, which deal not only with our emotions, but also with our reasoned thoughts and actions.One in ten people worldwide suffer from some form of chronic pain every year. This is more than all the heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined. One in four people suffer from chronic pain in some parts of the world.It is a common experience and we should learn more about how to deal with it.It has been well known for a long time that mood disorders and chronic pain are closely related. Up to half of people who experience prolonged periods of severe pain over a period of months may also suffer from anxiety or depression.These can have serious consequences, resulting in sleep disruption, stress, guilt, and even a feeling of guilt.It is difficult to target specific changes in neurochemistry in a small area of the brain, especially since neurotransmitters such as glutamate or GABA have so many uses throughout the nervous system.Knowing that there are physical changes associated with chronic pain and managing emotions may help individuals gain perspective and control over their bodies.Gustin says that the brain cannot dampen these feelings by itself, but that it is plastic and can be changed.This research was published by the European Journal of Pain.