Widespread pain, a debilitating symptom of fibromyalgia and other musculoskeletal disorders, affects over four millions American adults every year. But according to new research, these chronic pain sufferers also need to keep an eye on how it may affect their cognitive function and brain health as they get older.
In their recent academic paper published in Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine, scientists in China looked at data from almost 2,500 participants who took part in the Framingham Heart Study starting between the years 1990 and 1994. They charted what kind of widespread pain these subjects dealt with as well as any brain changes over the following 10 to 15 years. Previous research had found a link between widespread pain and cognitive decline, but no one had gone further to find out if that could devolve into dementia, Alzheimer’s, or stroke.
Based on their findings, researchers concluded that compared to people who didn’t have widespread pain, those who did were 43 percent more likely to have dementia, 47 percent more likely to specifically have Alzheimer’s, and 29 percent more likely to have a stroke. Because their study was purely observational, they’re unsure of the exact relationship or cause of this phenomenon, but they believe it’s absolutely worth additional study. They also haven’t yet identified any methods for prevention.
Currently, there’s no cure for widespread pain caused by fibromyalgia or similar conditions, but there are many treatment options that could mitigate it. Medications like pain relievers, anti-seizure drugs, and antidepressants can lessen sensations and also make it easier to sleep. Physical and occupational therapists can help patients find strategies for completing basic tasks with less pain. Moreover, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking could cumulatively slow the effects of this pain and make it more manageable. It’s worth talking to your doctor to see what your options are.