How Does the Body Process Pain

How Does the Body Process Pain

​And What Happens When the Body Cannot Process Pain?

How would you describe your pain?
How would you describe your pain?

How would you describe your pain? (No, not the constant pain like your in-laws or other unwanted relatives wearing out their welcome!) Pain can be dull or sharp. There are aching pains, cutting pains, burning pains and more.

The many different types of pain have already been discussed in another article on this site, but there is still some question about how the human body registers pain, and why we experience pain in the way that we do. Imagine a life without pain though. Would it be a better life?

There are some people who are unable to feel physical pain due to medical conditions. Imagine being incapable of experiencing pain. Would the inability to feel pain also prevent us from feeling pleasure? In the latter portion of this article we will look at some of the conditions that prevent the body from experiencing pain, and what impact it has on the human body and your physical health.

​Why Do We Experience Pain?

The transmission of pain is a direct result of our evolutionary existence. Pain serves as a warning mechanism to let us know that something is wrong. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak may only cause relatively minor levels of pain, but served originally to let early humans know those plants were poisonous, and to stay away.

Pain is best defined as the motor reflex function based on the transmission of signals from the brain to motor nerves generally resulting in an automatic level of response. If a rattlesnake was kept in a glass cage, and it was literally impossible for the snake to bite a person, the natural reaction would still be for the person to snatch their hands back when the snake strikes.

This happens because, despite the conscious knowledge that the snake cannot bite the individual, the brain sends a signal to motor nerves, creating a semi-autonomous or more accurately, an automatic physical response.

The pain serves to let humans know when there is an immediate threat to the individual, and ideally will help the individual avoid dangerous situations. However, this also relies on the presence of a sufficient level of cognitive ability to retain the information gained, and to avoid those circumstances which caused the pain in the first place.

​How Does the Nervous System Detect and Interpret Pain?

What is the nervous system?
What is the nervous system?

Pain is the result of the sensory nerves sending a signal to the brain, which is then transmitted through the spinal cord. In return, the brain sends a signal to the motor nerves initiating an instinctive or automatic response, such as pulling the hand away from the flame.

​What is the Nervous System?

The Nervous System in total is a combination of the Central Nervous System comprised of the spinal cord and brain, and the Peripheral Nervous System which is made up of the sensory and motor nerves.

The spinal cord serves many purposes, not the least of which is working as the internal internet as it were, containing numerous nerves and sending signals from throughout the body to the brain, and signals from the brain back through to all of the different parts of the body.

​Are There People Who Cannot Feel Pain?

How about people who can never experience physical pain? It may sound great with just a passing glance, but would that inability to experience pain also prevent the individual from experiencing pleasure? And what of the warnings we receive through the existence of pain?

These warning signs exemplified through the experience of pain, serve as a warning that danger is present and we need to get away from that source of discomfort before the consequences worsen. Let us look also at some medical conditions that prevent someone from feeling any pain.

​Can Someone Experience Pleasure Even if They Cannot Experience Pain?

The most common disorders that inhibit the ability of a person to experience pain generally only affect the sensory nerves responsible for detecting sharp physical pain, heat, and cold. Thus, while these people may not react to painful stimuli to the dermal layers, they may still experience sensations of pleasure in other parts of their body.

There is also an experience known as “Phantom Limb Syndrome” where, despite a limb, digit, or other appendage being missing, the brain still sends signals as if the missing body part was still attached, resulting in a unique physiological reaction similar to what would occur on a strictly physical level if the missing part were still present.

​What Are Congenital Insensitivity to Pain Disorders or CIP?

If something is congenital, it is present from birth. Congenital insensitivity to pain or CIP, is a condition where the individual is unable to experience pain from the time of their birth. Congenital insensitivity to pain is more often than not, a form of peripheral neuropathy as it is directly attributable to the peripheral nervous system and its ability to function properly.

A child may cry because he or she is experiencing pangs of hunger, or seeking physical contact for emotional and mental support and comfort. No matter why the child is crying, it is because of some discomfort … or pain.

Are there people who cannot feel pain?
Are there people who cannot feel pain?

Children born without any ability to experience pain, may find themselves in a very precarious position. Why? Because a child born without the capacity to experience pain cannot express themselves when something is wrong and needs to be tended to or taken care of.

As a direct result of this, some children who are born with congenital insensitivity to pain will not survive because they cannot let anyone know when there is a problem. Many of these people will suffer from a reduced lifespan due to their inability to process the pain and to react accordingly.

Most people suffering from CIP will still be capable of recognizing the difference between heat or cold, and even between sharp objects and dull objects, but will not be able to feel the pain in the event of accident or even illness. One of the most recognizable means of detecting this disorder in infants, is the presence of sores on the ends of the fingers from the infant chewing, and not realizing when the skin has been punctured or chewed through.

​What is Congenital Insensitivity to Pain Disorder With Anhidrosis or CIPA?

CIPA is the same as CIP, with the addition of an inability of the person to perspire or sweat.

Anhidrosis, also commonly referred to as hypohidrosis, is the inability of a person to perspire and is commonly found in people with congenital insensitive to pain disorders. Another common trait found in many people suffering from CIP is an inability to smell, more commonly or properly at least, referred to as Anosmia.

The inability to sweat can create numerous medical problems, including a propensity for suffering heat stroke or heat exhaustion. The process of sweating serves to cool the body and can result in excessive body temperatures leading to these conditions.

Not sweating can also lead to a build up of toxins in the body, as the sweat allows you to secrete what would otherwise be poisons out directly through the skin and sweat glands. Along the same lines, the sweat also serves to keep the surface area of the skin moist even when it is exposed to high levels of heat that may otherwise leave it dry and cracked.

​What are Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy or HSAN Disorders?

HSAN or Hereditary Sensory Autonomic Neuropathy consists of numerous, albeit very rare peripheral neuropathies including the CIPA previously discussed in this article. The HSAN disorders are medical issues within the peripheral nervous system that prevent the nervous system from functioning properly.

There are at least five different categories of hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathies, though there is also some contention as many individuals suffering from HSAN do not fit neatly into any of the current existing categories.

The common factor in all of the different categories of HSAN centers around the Myelin. Myelin is roughly equivalent to the insulation surrounding an electrical wire, though in the case of the human body, it serves to shield and protect nerve bundles, allowing for the exchange of information between the brain, sensory nerves, and motor nerves through electronic signals sent to and fro within the body.

In some cases or different categories of HSAN, the damage to the myelin is damaged only to the extent that these pain indicators or signals, are slowed down but not completely disconnected or nonexistent. In these cases, the symptoms and result are an inhibited capacity to experience painful sensations. This is often accompanied by a substantially slower healing process within the body.

In some of these cases, the person suffering from HSAN may not experience any deviation from normal behavior in terms of the ability to sense pain and in the autonomic function of the body resulting from painful stimuli.

The most common variation of HSAN is HSAN type 1 which is the result of a mutation in the SPTLC1 gene. This is an inherited (or hereditary) trait in an autosomal dominant pattern. The HSAN type 1 is notable as it is the only category or type of HSAN that is transmitted through a dominant pattern.

HSAN type 2 is a result of mutations of the WNK1 gene, and unlike HSAN type 1, is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern.

Riley-Day syndrome, also known as Familial Dysautonomia is the common name for HSAN type 3. This variant is the consequence of mutations in the IKBKAP gene and like HSAN type 2, is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern.

HSAN type 4 has already been explored in this article, and is more commonly referred to as CIPA. This type of HSAN is the product of inherited mutations in the NTRK1 gene and is also transmitted in an autosomal recessive pattern.

HSAN type 5 is what occurs based on mutations of the NGFB gene and like the types 2, 3, and 4, is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern.

​Why Should Select You AHCMD in Boca Raton?

At Advanced Health Care MD, we realize that you go to the hospital or visit your doctor to alleviate and avoid pain wherever possible. We know that going to the doctor should never be a painful experience all its own. All our staff and personnel are fully trained to provide you with the care you need, your medical issues aside, in a pain-free environment.


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