Gulf War Veterans with chronic pain have larger pain processing in brain, study suggests

In a paper titled Pain, but not Physical Activity, is Associated with Gray Matter Volume Differences in Gulf War Veterans with Chronic Pain, researchers have suggested that brains of Gulf War Veterans with chronic pain have much larger pain processing regions and smaller pain regulation regions compared to their healthy peers. The study is published in JNeurosci.

As is the case, more than 33% of Gulf War Veterans experience widespread, chronic pain linked to a condition called Gulf War Illness. The medical community hasn’t been able to determine the underlying cause of the pain and this has prevented the development of effective treatments.

Researchers analyzed the brains of Gulf War Veterans with and without pain using MRI. The participants also completed questionaries about their pain symptoms, fatigue, and mood.

Those with chronic pain displayed smaller left and right insular cortices, two brain areas involved in regulating pain. They also had larger areas of the frontal cortex, specifically in regions involved in pain sensitivity and emotional regulation. The structural changes were more pronounced in people with worse pain, but there was no relationship with fatigue or mood. These results indicate the chronic pain from Gulf War Illness may stem from changes in how the central nervous system processes pain, rather than with issues with nerves or pain receptors.

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