Does someone in your family suffer from chronic pain? Do they also struggle with depression? It’s easy to see why someone who hurts all the time would be depressed about it. A study found that chronic pain and depression share some genetic links. The study used science and ended up confirming what many people already assumed was true.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland produced a study that was published in PLOS Medicine. The title of the study was: “Genetic and Environmental Risk for Chronic Pain and the Contribution of Risk Variants for Major Depressive Disorder: A Family-Based Mixed-Model Analysis”.
The study relied on data gathered from Generation Scotland, which is a bioresource of human biological samples that are available for medical research. It also relied on data from the UK Biobank, which recruited 500,000 people aged between 40-60 years old in 2006-2010 from across the country to take part in the project. The people submitted blood, urine, and saliva samples for future analysis.
The study published in PLOS Medicine found that genetic factors, as well as chronic pain in a partner or spouse, contribute substantially to the risk of chronic pain for an individual. It also stated that chronic pain is genetically correlated with MDD, has a polygenic architecture, and is associated with polygenic risk of MDD.
Polygenetic means “of, relating to, or controlled by polygenes”. Polygenes are “any group of genes that each produce a small quantitative effect on a particular characteristic of the phenotype. The word phenotype refers to a person’s genes that are not visibly expressed.
The researchers found that “both genetic factors and chronic pain in a partner or spouse contribute to the risk of chronic pain for an individual”. They also found that “chronic pain is caused by an accumulation of many small genetic effects and is associated with some of the same genetic and environmental risk factors that confer risk of depression.”
In a separate study, researchers from 23andMe, Massachusetts General Hospital and Pfizer conducted genome wide association studies using data from 23andMe customers (who consented to participate in the research). This study also found that chronic pain can arise from the combined effects of may genetic factors and that the risk of chronic pain is heightened if their is also a genetic risk of depression.
In short, it is incorrect to assume that a person’s chronic pain is “all in their head.” It would be more accurate to say that it is in their genes.
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