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Why it hurts when feeling low

Depressed mood increases the perception of pain. This is according to finding by a team of researchers from University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The scientists put forth that depression and pain often occur together, but the ‘why’ and ‘how’ (mental and physical mechanism) of this phenomenon have not been known. To examine the interaction between depressed mood and pain, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain activity of 20 healthy volunteers when subjected to an unpleasant stimulus of heat while feeling low.

Results showed that when healthy people were made sad by negative thoughts and depressing music, the painful stimulus caused increased activity in the region of the brain that regulates and processes emotions. But there is less activity response to the unpleasant  stimulus when made during a neutral mood. This, according to the authors, connects changes in emotion regulation with enhanced pain experience.

The authors believed that sadness reduces one’s ability to regulate the negative emotion associated with feeling pain. Pain then becomes more pronounced. Depressed mood increases the risk of developing pain, causing it to feel worse.

The study concluded that depressed mood can come with it pain vulnerability and that the results served to find effective medicines or psychotherapy treatment for this cases.

The researchers said the next step in this line of research will be to examine this mechanism in individuals who suffer from chronic (recurring) pain and depression, with the goal of eventually developing more effective interventions.


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