Woman Who Feels No Pain Could Change How Doctors Treat Pain

Pain is a normal part of life. It lets us know when we’re in danger of harming ourselves, and it warns us when something is going wrong in our bodies. Researchers are studying a rare genetic mutation that has left one woman virtually incapable of perceiving pain, and it may hold the key to the future in pain management.

Researchers in England are studying a Scottish woman who has a set of rare genetic mutations that render her nearly immune to pain. They hope to find ways to simulate reduced expression of a specific gene, FAAH, which affects perceptions of pain and anxiety.

This rare mutation could change the way doctors treat pain...

A Rare Woman

Researchers at University College, London (UCL) are studying a Scottish woman who is nearly immune to all types of pain. They became aware of her condition after she saw a doctor for a hip condition, unaware that the joint had degenerated. She should have been in agony, but she felt no pain.

The next year, she needed surgery on one hand, and didn’t experience any pain afterward. She told doctors she’d never had any need for painkillers, even after dental procedures most people would find excruciating.

You’d think a life without pain would be a beautiful thing, but pain can be as much a blessing as it is a curse. People born with insensitivity to pain can perceive heat and cold, but not the pain associated with either extreme. They often suffer serious burns and cuts, which they may not notice until they can see other evidence of the damage. They also tend to be hard on their joints, unaware when they’re causing damage until it affects their mobility.

A Rare Mutation

Pain geneticists at UCL found two mutations responsible for the phenomenon. They identified a microdeletion in one gene called FAAH-OUT, believed up until now to be “junk” DNA. They also found a mutation in another gene that appears to control FAAH expression. Studies have shown inhibition of FAAH expression significantly reduces the pain mice experience when given simulated migraine headaches.

FAAH inhibition can also reduce anxiety levels. This is because FAAH interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which influences perceptions of both pain and anxiety. The Scottish woman’s rare experience supports these findings. She experiences very little anxiety, even in high-stress situations. Unfortunately, because it plays on the endocannabinoid system, reduced FAAH expression can also have minor negative effects on memory.

Possible New Avenues in Pain Management

The mutation’s discovery could lead to safer, more effective pain and anxiety management methods and treatments. Medications that specifically target FAAH may be able to reduce symptoms with fewer side effects. Studies on the gene mutations and their effects on FAAH expression may even offer insight into better managing other genetic mutations that cause pain disorders.

Living pain-free might not be the picnic it would seem at first glance, but many of us could stand to live with a little less of it. New advances may be able to help people who currently only have narcotic alternatives. The future of pain management could be as simple as reducing the expression of a gene or two.

~ Here’s to Your Health and Wellness

11/28/2021 9:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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