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Pain Levels May Vary for Accident Victims Based on Genetic Factors

University scientists, in two studies examining the experiences of 948 adults injured in auto accidents, have discovered that the severity and amount of pain that they experience from similar injuries greatly varies. They believe that this may be based on genetic factors, and impact how the accident victims try to cope with the pain, both right after the accident occurs, and subsequently, such as a month and a half later.

Some accident victims can experience pain that persists for a long period of time, even though they do not have the type of damage that shows up on X-rays or MRI scans. Too often, such pain is regarded by some with suspicion, and it is assumed that the person is “faking,” when in actuality they simply have a greater sensitivity to pain based on their genetic makeup, and what they are experiencing is very real. Not understanding this can cause some victims to be denied the treatment they need to relieve their suffering, or some to be denied adequate compensation for their injuries.

Prior studies also indicated that pain following a car accident can stem from a number of sources. Direct damage to tissues caused by the trauma of the accident’s impact is one basis, of course. But another source of pain is from how the body itself responds to the accident—which may vary from person to person.

In the current two studies, researchers drew blood from car accident victims when they first came to a hospital ER for treatment of their injuries. Pain evaluations were also conducted on the spot, as well as in a follow up interview 45 days later.

In one study, the researchers looked at how a hormonal system in the body which governs how a person responds to stress differed among the accident victims. This system is labeled the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis. The results indicated that a genetic variation among the victims seemed to cause as much as a one in 5 greater incidence of neck pain ranging from moderate to severe still occurring 45 days after a car accident, along with more pain in the body overall.

The other study focused on a neurotransmitter in the body known as dopamine that aids in controlling how the body processes and experiences pain. Variations in accident victim’s genetic makeup that impacted on receptor 2 in the dopamine neurotransmitter influence how severe the pain each accident victim experience right after the accident was.

Some pain, accordingly, may be attributable to the body’s own makeup, and how it reacts to stress and impact, something the accident victim inherited and cannot control or alter, rather than being dependent on the presence of a torn muscle or broken bone.

The researchers cautioned that their studies are just a beginning in trying to understand how the human body processes and experiences pain, and that there is much left still to learn about pain mechanisms. For now, however, they believe that these preliminary findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, point to a clear genetic role in variations in how much pain accident victims feel, and for how long.