An article this week about Jo Cameron, who has been living for 71 years without feeling pain or anxiety because she has a rare genetic mutation, prompted questions among New York Times readers.
The notion that the same gene might be responsible for how a person treats physical and psychological pain has left a lot of perplexity: are not they totally different? Or does her story suggest that sensitivity to one type of pain might be closely related to sensitivity to another?
The delivery, Mrs. Cameron said, was like "tickling". She often relies on her husband to alert her when she is bleeding, is bruised or burned because nothing hurts her.
When a person close to her died, she felt sad but "I do not go to pieces". She does not remember being angry. by no matter what – even a recent car accident.
"I make people crazy by being gay," she said.
[Read more about the woman who has never felt pain or anxiety.]
Here is a little about what we know:
Do those who live without pain live without anxiety?
No. Before meeting Ms. Cameron, the scientists who studied her case worked with other patients who did not feel pain.
"A reduction in anxiety has not yet been found before in the other pain-insensitivity disorders we are working on," said Dr. James Cox , keynote speaker at the Molecular Nociception Group of University College London.
He also stated that since Ms. Cameron had spent more than six decades without realizing how unusual she was, there could be others like her. A number of these people contacted the Times after the publication of the article.
"I also had children and no pain," wrote Juanita Hoffman, 81, of Dayton, Ohio. "I thought the family and friends who complained were only queens of drama."
Asked about her mental state, she wrote, "No, I did not never experienced anxiety. I have always been happy and happy. "
How Can a Genetic Mutation Eliminate Anxiety?
Dr. Cox stated that he thought that Ms. Cameron's reduced anxiety was "linked to increased signaling at the CB1 receptors," or known cannabinoid receptors to help the body cope with stressful situations. (Notably, they are activated by THC in cannabis.)
Block the cannabinoid receptors and anxiety will increase; stimulate cannabinoid receptors and anxiety will fall, studies have shown. Receptors also affect the way people feel physical pain.
Does this mean that physical and mental pain is treated in the same way?
No, it is more complicated than that and many more research is still needed, said Dr. TH Eric Bui of the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Disorders of Stress and complex grief treatment at the Massachusetts General Hospital. What we know, he says, is that "the areas of the brain that deal with emotional and physical pain overlap."
In another example of the mysterious confusion between the two types of pain, he noted that acetaminophen (the active ingredient of Tylenol, among other painkillers), had been shown to reduce the emotional pain that accompanies rejection.
Is rejection therefore similar to physical pain?
Naomi Eisenberger, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, believes so. Dr. Eisenberger is studying similarities in how the brain treats physical pain and "social pain" resulting from rejection.
She repeatedly said that she had found that "people more sensitive to physical pain are more upset by rejection. "
Do anxious people seem to feel less pain?
In general, yes, according to some specialists in pain management.
Adam Woo, a consultant in pain and anesthesia at King's College Hospital in London, has worked with thousands of patients suffering from pain. Patients with high anxiety tend to be more sensitive to pain, he noted.
"If you are anxious, your perception of pain is worse," he said. And if two patients face exactly the same type of injury, the most anxious patient tends to have a "higher complaint score," he said. threshold?
Debra Kissen, executive director of Light on Anxiety, a Chicago-based treatment center, says some people are really more sensitive because they seem to be feeling more intensely. That said, she has observed how anxiety and physical pain can mutually amplify each other.
Suffering from chronic pain, a person may begin to feel anxious about not having control of their body. Then their anxiety can increase their concentration on the pain, exacerbating it. Treat one or the other and it will help both, she said.
What she finds most intriguing about both types of pain is the consistency in the responses her patients give to a choice. "I'm going to ask someone:" You can bang your toe and you feel emotional desperation, "she said.
Patients are still stung toes .