Some People More Sensitive to Pain

Pain that brings tears to one person's eyes may be barely noticed by someone else, and that can be a problem for doctors deciding on treatment.

The answer: Listen to the patient, a new study says. Some people really do feel more pain than others.

"We have all met people who seem very sensitive to pain as well as those who appear to tolerate pain very well," said Robert Coghill of Wake Forest University and lead investigator on a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Until now, there was no objective evidence that could confirm that these individual differences in pain sensitivity are, in fact, real."

But the study of brain activity showed that some people do respond more strongly to pain.

The researchers used MRI to study the brains of 17 volunteers while the skin of each volunteer's lower right leg was heated with a heating pad.

When the researchers compared the brain scans to the levels of pain reported by the volunteers they found that the parts of the brain involved in experiencing pain were more active in people who said they felt more pain. In other words, reports of greater pain than the average were not simply made up.

In particular, they found the increased activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, which deals with pain location and intensity, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which handles unpleasant feelings caused by pain.

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