Research suggests genetics may influence car-crash pain

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Your car veers into a median, colliding with a tree. The severity of the pain you experience from the impact — both immediately after the crash and weeks later — may be a matter of genetics, according to two new studies conducted at the University of North Carolina.

One study focused on the role of dopamine in how the body processes pain, and the other homed in on the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis hormonal system. The results showed that depending on genetic variants, a person could experience elevated pain immediately after an accident, and that six weeks post-crash, pain symptoms could be more severe.
The conventional approach to treating car-crash victims has been to care for the obvious points of physical trauma — the injuries detectable by X-rays or MRI scans. But scientists began to realize that it wasn’t so simple, and the UNC studies picked up where other research had left off. Evidence had showed that car-accident pain wasn’t entirely the result of tissue damage but might also be due to physiological reactions to a crash.
“Currently, patients who experience persistent pain, who don’t have things you can see that are obviously damaged, are often viewed with lots of suspicion and they don’t get the treatment they need,” study author Dr. Samuel McLean told Health Day. “This [research] shows a biologic basis for the development of these symptoms.”

Now McLean and the other UNC researchers have a better understanding of what that is. “There’s a whole biology that can cause pain that has nothing to do with broken bone or torn muscle,” he said.

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