Thursday, April 26, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chronic Pain and Depression: A Brief Scientific Review

The Relationship of Chronic Pain and Major Depression

Struggles of the human condition often involve strife and suffering. Human history provides volumes of evidence supporting that the human condition involves a variety of forms of obstacles. Mental challenges of depression, anxiety, or psychosis are common themes of psychological strife. Physical afflictions, such as illness, injury, or handicaps, are also considered part of the ordinary challenges most individuals face. However, often it is forgotten that these groups are not mutually exclusive and often coexist together. Some even mutually sustain each other, such as pain and depression. Chronic pain and major depression have a reciprocal relationship, in which each can increase intensity/proclivity for the other through various psychological and physical factors.

     The link between chronic pain and depression has been well established in scientific literature. Though various definitions exist, pain is considered chronic when it continues for more than one month after healing of an injury and occurs repeatedly. Meaning that the original cause of the pain should be healed, yet the pain continues. Depression also has many definitions and classifications. When using the common term depression, people are usually referring to ‘major depression’, where extensive depressive symptoms interfere with an individual’s daily life for a minimum period of time. According to the DSM-IV, the individual must have depressive symptoms (negative mood, loss of interest, loss of pleasure in life, etc.) that interfere with normal functioning for a minimum of two weeks (2000). In addition to being thoroughly defined, both chronic pain and depression have been extensively covered in psychiatric and medical research. Analyzed in independent and related studies, research has attempted to establish and explain the link between the two phenomenon.

     The relationship that has been established between the chronic pain and depression is well supported empirically. Research has shown that about 75% of patients with depression experience chronic/reoccurring pain (Lepine & Briley, 2004) and 60% of chronic pain patients report significant depressive symptoms (Bair & Robinson, 2003). Researchers often disagree on the causes of this relationship. For example, opinions differ on the direction of the relationship and whether it is a moderating or direct relationship. Despite such conflicts, there is a consensus that a correlation exists (Banks & Kerns, 1996; Bair, Jinwei, Damush, Sutherland & Kroenke, 2008). However, identifying the correlation does little to explain the factors leading to it or causative direction of it.

     Explanations for the relationship of chronic pain and depression are found in numerous areas of psychology. The link is thought to be sustained/supported by a variety factors. For example, the emotional state of an individual is one of these factors. An individual’s emotional state can be influenced by and can influence both physical and psychological experiences. Meaning various events affect emotions and emotions influence perceptions of events. This reciprocal relationship is well illustrated by the phenomenon of negative attribution. Individuals feeling frustrated/stressed are more likely to have negative anticipatory biases. These individuals attach disproportionate negative feelings to events. Meaning that if individuals are in a negative emotional state, they will be more likely to expect/confirm unpleasant sensations with events. Such biases increase the development and maintenance of depression and chronic pain disorders (Boersma, 2006). Individuals perceive bad events (both pain and emotion based) as more negative and damaging than they would normally seem. And this continued enhancement of depressive/chronic pain symptoms gradually leads to more negative emotional states. This sinking of emotional state can further intensify later negative anticipatory biases, perpetuating them into a causative loop.

Social consequences also factor into the bi-directional relationship of chronic pain and depression. Social dysfunction is a consequence of both pain and depression. Attending social functions, keeping commitments, and staying active in a community can all be threatened by chronic pain and depression. Maintaining interpersonal connections and mutual support between friends and family members can consequently be impaired because of the isolation chronic pain and depression can create (Peveler, Edwards, Daddow, & Thomas, 1996). Unfortunately, that loss of social support can increase feelings of depression, further limiting social activity and intensifying pain. The cycle essentially continues and pushes the suffering individual into a state of relative isolation. Cut off from social support, the cycle will merely continue to worsen.

     Behavioral effects also factor into the relationship between pain and depression. Learned helplessness heavily factors into the onset of major depression. When an individual feels incapable of changing/influencing his/her situation, he/she will slowly come to feel helpless and hopeless. Seeing any positive action as ineffective, they descend into a slump of helplessness that ends with depression (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978). This sense of helplessness is easily created by chronic pain. Not only does the individual feel incapable of stopping the pain, but the pain will restrict them from performing normal activities. Many activities, such as outdoor play, exercise, walking, cooking, and driving, can be interfered with or completely halted by chronic pain. When a person is stopped from doing activities they love or rendered incapable of fully caring for themselves, they see themselves in a hopeless situation where they are helpless to change anything. With such a set up, it is easy to see why behavioral disruptions, brought on by pain, can trigger the beginnings of depression and help maintain that depression.

     Depression and chronic pain are physically interrelated largely because of how the human nervous system is wired.  For example, it is hypothesized that sensory pain pathways are tightly intertwined with emotion pathways in the brain. This relationship is supported by studies that suggest that both pain and emotion regulation involves some of the same neurotransmitters and brain locales/pathways (Basbaum & Fields, 1978). Research denotes that neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine play critical roles in both depressive illnesses and pain perception. When one system is overtaxed beyond its capacity to self-limit, the other system may also be impaired. Meaning that if one of the interconnected systems falls into a state where it cannot modulate neural responses, both systems will be unable to modulate neural responses. Because intensity of pain/emotion experiences somewhat rely on stable regulation of their systems, perception of either will spike when either system has been overtaxed. Overtaxing can result from extensive periods of above normal strain, such as prolonged physical pain or emotional suffering.

Another important physical link between chronic pain and depression is signaled by the common use of anti-depressants to treat chronic pain. Anti-depressants are commonly prescribed to depressed and non-depressed patients of pain management clinics, for analgesic effects. The doses are lower than those for depression and show positive benefits in lowering pain (Ryder & Stannard, 2005).  These benefits are thought to stem from the related monoamines in both pain sensation and major depression: serotonin and/or norepinephrine. They are also thought to interact with share receptors. Although the exact mechanisms of this benefit are poorly understood, the shared benefits strengthen the theory of their relationship.

When these related brain mechanisms malfunction, an individual will experience higher sensitivity to pain and mood changes. This is due to higher magnitudes of neuronal activation in the associated brain regions. It has been suggested that this alteration in functional responses may be due to faulty anticipatory processing, impairing the brain’s ability to modulate processing of pain and negative affective states (Strigo, Simmons, Matthews, Craig, & Paulus, 2008). Extended periods of attaching negative bias to events will force the brain into a physical response pattern of increased sensitivity. Essentially, because an individual has perceived something as negative for so long, the brain will increasingly automatically attach heightened sensitivity to the negative qualities of that experience. Some pathways are more vulnerable to this alteration in activity than others. Relevant response pathways that are easily given this attachment of heightened sensitivity are feelings of pain and negative emotion.

Somatosensory amplification is another concept that helps illustrate the neurological relationship between chronic pain and depression. Somatosensory amplification includes a hypervigilance to unpleasant sensations and a tendency to overanalyze sensations (Barsky, 1992. Individuals experiencing prolonged periods of psychological distress (such as major depression) will be more likely to experience intensifying trends of somatosensory amplification. This amplification refers to both psychological processing and nerves experiencing stronger reactions to normal stimuli. When this happens, an individual will perceive sensory events as more intense than they normally would (Barsky & Wyshak, 1990). The connotation here is that neural pathway responses are amplified due to psychological stress. Thus a normal signal of pain is amplified into a more painful experience (the perception of pain increases without an actual increase in the stimulus of that pain).

The physical and psychological interrelationship of chronic pain and major depression is complex and has many facets. However, despite the confusing mechanisms, each factor that contributes to this relationship also functions as empirical evidence further supporting it. The evidence today shows that there are many individual factors that connect chronic pain and major depression. They contribute to and sustain one another, binding them into a strong interrelated cycle. To find out the details, more research is necessary, and someday the inner mechanisms of these factors will be revealed.

Abramson, L.Y., Seligman, M.E., Teasdale, J.D.. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 87(1), 49-74.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Bair, M.J., Robinson, R.L., Katon, W, & Kroenke, K. (2003). Depression and pain comorbidity: a literature review. Archives of Internal Medicine. 163(20). 2433-2445.
Bair, M.J., Jingwei, W., Damush, T.M., Sutherland, J.M., & Kroenke, K.. (2008). Association of depression and anxiety alone and in combination with chronic musculoskeletal pain in primary care patients. Psychosomatic Medicine. 70, 890-897.
Banks, S.M., & Kerns, R.D.. (1996). Explaining high rates of depression in chronic pain: A diathesis-stress framework. Psychological bulletin. 119(1), 95-110.
Boersma, K., & Linton, S.J.. (2006). Expectancy, fear, and pain in the prediction of chronic pain and disability: a prospective analysis. European Journal of Pain. 10(6). 551-557
Barksy, A.. (1992). Amplification, somatization, and the somatoform disorders. Psychosomatics: Journal of Consultation Liaison Psychiatry. 33(1), 28-34.
Barsky, A., & Wyshak, G. (1990). Hypochondriasis and somatosensory amplification. British Journal of Psychiatry. 157, 404-409.
Lepine, J.P., & Briley, M.. (2004). The epidemiology of pain in depression. Human Psychopharmacology****. 19. S3-S7
Peveler, R., Edwards, J., Daddow, J., & Thomas, E. (1996). Psychological factors and chronic pelvic pain: a comparison of women with endometriosis and with unexplained pain. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 40(3), 305-315
Ryder, S.A., &  Stannard, C.F.. (2005). Treatment of chronic pain: antidepressant, antiepileptic and antiarrhythmic drugs. Education in Anesthesia, Critical Care, & Pain. 5(1): 18-21.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sugar--How Sour Sugared Gummy Bears Ruined my Week

Hopefully it has been reflected on my site that, recently, I have been feeling immensely better than I did this time last year. My excision surgery seems to have been a success, and my lesser pain and increased energy/mood is almost foreign to me. I actually biked 30 miles on my single speed bike on Tuesday! I never could have done that two years ago--I feel human again and its amazing. But I need to remember that I still have an impaired immune system... even if the implants are gone, I'm still dealing with all the other issues of endo and I need to be more mindful of that. More importantly, I need to behave in a way that helps keep them from coming back.

And here is why--I had my first period since I was on Lupron a couple weeks ago (and another one this week :(. Still working on the near constant bleeding thing). My sugar cravings went through the roof! And here I was thinking that because I was so much healthier in my diet and lifestyle, that a little sugar wouldn't hurt. So I ate a lot of it... a lot of sour-sugared gummy bears (my favorite candy).  The immediate feeling of relaxation, happiness, and energy that those gummies gave me was incredible. So I ate probably a pound over a the several days of PMS before.

Unfortunately, I paid a heavy price. I was in so much pain and weakness during that week, that I had to stay in bed for a day or two, was on narcotics, and was struggling to walk. The whole time I'm thinking, "Why is this happening? I'm better now!". It was not until the following week that I considered what could have had such a negative effect on my first 'normal' menstrual cycle. And then it hit me... the sugar.

The effects of sugar on endometriosis are one of the few things about the disease that is well understood. However, that doesn't make it any easier to manage or deal with. Clearly I failed that week. The general effects of endometriosis make us crave sugar--and the general effects of sugar makes endometriosis *worse*. It's a difficult cycle and requires some understanding and planning to handle.

First off, let's see what exactly those effects are. Sudden spikes and dives of blood sugar levels affect various systems in our bodies. How resistant our bodies are to such spikes and dives varies; for example, I have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). There are two types of hypoglycemia: reactive hypoglycemia and fasting hypoglycemia. I have the second type--I actually have to eat about every two hours. If I do not, I get dizzy, shaky, and can faint (which is awful). If I start having an 'attack' (a point of low blood sugar where common food takes too long to pull me out), I have to have something that is naturally sugary--such as juice or honey. If I have something like candy (when I have an empty stomach), I'll just have a sudden rise and worse fall, and can pass out. So, the moral of this story, is that clearly I have a somewhat more sensitive system to sugars than the average individual. So you would think that I would have been more cautious.

However, just because my system is a little more sensitive, that does not change the point I am trying to make. If anything, it just allows me to use myself as a slightly more clear example. Even though my system is more sensitive, I take in considerably less sugar than most women I know. Because I cannot handle the tremulous ups and downs. Because of this, it makes it more clear cut to track down what, how, and when I caused the pain I experienced.

As I was saying, spikes and dives in blood sugar affects our bodies. It depresses our immune system, puts strains on our adrenals, and it can lead to a spike in estrogen production. Research has even shown that excess sugar can temporarily switch of genes that regulate production of estrogen--meaning that hormone, which is already in excess in an endometriosis body, goes haywire. All three of these consequences are important factors in endometriosis and its symptoms.

Certain sugars cause these sudden, disastrous fluctuations easier than others. Processed sugars, such as refined white sugars and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are especially dangerous. I do not care that the producers of  HFCS tried to barrage us with commercials and advertisements saying that their sugar is no different from other sugars--it most certainly is. For one significant example, it changes the resistance of the human brain to sugar--meaning it can alter the way your brain recognizes and metabolizes energy. Our bodies were never built to deal with refined/processed sugars. So these especially cause sudden fluctuations and should be of special concern for women with endometriosis.

So, if sugars have such detrimental effects of endometriosis, why do we crave it? Why does it feel sooooo satisfying for me to eat handfuls of sour gummy bears? Because hormone imbalance (increased estrogen in particular) makes your body more insulin resistant. This means your body thinks it's lacking in sugar, so it sends out signals to your appetite that you need more sugar. When you satisfy that craving, you feel happy and relieved.  And yet, the more sugar you take in, the greater hormone imbalance you are creating.

Painful cramping is largely caused by significant hormonal imbalance. The more imbalanced your system is, the worse off you're going to feel. And when you already have a lot of blood to shed (courtesy of endometriosis) and an already existing hormone imbalance (courtesy of endometriosis), to throw in an extra wrench of increased estrogen and impaired body function, is not a smart thing to do (courtesy of sour gummy bears).

I will be the first to admit that between endometriosis and my low blood sugar, it is incredibly difficult to resist the temptations of excess sugar. Especially when I am feeling shaky, low, or tired. But my body, and everyone else's bodies (endometriosis or no), pay dearly for those craving-cave-ins. At the present moment, I will try to better manage the stability of my blood sugar. And hopefully, by next week, I will be able to present a plan for fending those cravings off.

For now, just please be aware of this connection and look at your own diet and cravings--because I am sure I am not the only woman sabotaging herself!

Thank you for reading and your patience with my tardiness :).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Endometriosis is Related to Extra-Sensory Perception--April Fools

For those of you that have not heard the news, a recent study has linked Endometriosis with extrasensory communication/perception (ESP)! This ESP phenomenon was discovered in a recent UC Berkeley study, conducted by Dr. Proalifo, in which extra-sensory properties of the female uterus was the topic. Despite rigorous testing and wide sampling, the study proposal was largely dismissed by the scientific community. This is largely attributable to the general 'taboo' label given to any studies concerning extra-sensory observation. Dr. Proalifo has conducted several ESP studies, most displaying significant results, which means that he found support for his proof. However, even the professor and his team were apt to give up when months of research was leading to multiple dead ends.

However, prompted by prior studies that linked the syncing of menstrual cycles to physical proximity (e.g., women living together often 'flow' together), Dr. Proalifo decided to refocus his work on uterine 'abnormalities'. This path led him to investigate extremes of uterine functioning, particularly in diseases such as PCOS and Endometriosis. His results provided some rather interesting findings.

The study, The Extra-Sensory Properties of the Endometriosis Uterus, published in the Journal of Physiological Psychiatry, demonstrated above-average telepathic communication between women with Endoemtriosis and their uteri.

"The connection was not easy to establish," says Dr. Proalifo, in an exclusive interview with NPR Science, "when we generally envision telepathic communication, we think of messages and words. What we observed were more synchronization of actions."

Using a setup of partitions, multiple ultrasounds, and various stimuli, Dr. Proalifo was able to document some uncommon and significant behaviors in the women he studied. Apparently, the uteri of each women (without verbal or physical communication) were synchronized in movements. These could be anything from cramping to small 'shifts' in location. Usually one 'dominant' uterus would lead the other uteri in various motions, uncannily synced and only differed by small time lapses.

One case, the highlight of the study, involved five women, all strangers, and one particularly 'dominant' uterus. This uterus led the remaining four in a 'dance'--twisting, jiving, and shaking the ovaries in a manner akin to 'maracas'. The dominant uterus even attempted to pull other organs into the dance. Even more amazing, despite cramping, none of the women were aware of the events taking place in their pelvic cavities.

With such promising results, this study will surely act as a catalyst for further investigation. Such synchronization of uterine behaviors (abnormal behaviors at that) will surely lead to further study of Endometriosis and possible links between the disease and extra-sensory development. "I'm just getting started," states Dr. Proalifo.

For more information, please feel free to check out his paper and site.

April fools :-)

Follow by Email

Little Snippet

My photo
Oregon, United States
Contact me at

About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health and happiness.