Brain scans may detect predisposition to chronic pain

September 17, 2013 (CHICAGO)

According to Northwestern Medicine research, abnormalities in brain structure predispose some people to chronic pain. Researchers found that MRI brain scans could predict who would have persistent pain with about 85-percent accuracy.

The findings could change how doctors treat chronic pain.

"We think the people who are vulnerable need to be treated aggressively with medication early on to prevent their pain from becoming chronic," A. Vania Apkarian, senior author of the study, said. "Last year, we showed people who take medication early on had a better chance of recovering. Medication does help."

The study include 46 people who had lower back pain for at least four weeks, but had not experienced any pain before that. They scanned the victims before the study and one year later. Those with the persistent pain had the same structure abnormalities in both scans.

"The brain abnormalities exist in the general population, but only those people with a back injury go on to develop the chronic pain," Apkarian said.

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published Sept. 16 in the journal Pain.

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