WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
May 23, 2007 -- Chronic pain may distract the mind, hampering the
memory-making process, according to a new Canadian study.
Learning more about chronic pain's effects on mental skills such as memory
may one day lead to new treatments, note the researchers, who included Bruce
Dick, PhD, of the University of Alberta.
They studied 24 adults with chronic pain who were in their mid- to late 40s,
The patients' pain had lasted for at least six months. Their pain score was
at least 4 on a scale ranging from 0 to 10, with 0 indicating no pain and 10
indicating the worst pain imaginable.
The patients, who were being treated at the university's Multidisciplinary
Pain Centre, took memory tests twice -- once after getting a pain-relief
procedure such as an epidural injection, and on another day when they hadn't
had a recent pain-relief procedure.
The memory tests involved verbal memory (remembering specific words from
sentences) and spatial memory (remembering how the letter "J" was shown
on a computer screen).
Two-thirds of the patients performed worse on the tests on the days when
they hadn't had a recent pain-relieving procedure. Spatial memory was
particularly tricky for them, the study shows.
The results didn't seem to be tied to the patients' sleep problems,
psychological distress, or age, note the researchers.
"Our findings suggest that pain may disrupt the maintenance of the
memory trace that is required to hold information for processing and to later
retain it for storage in longer-term memory stores," write Dick and
They add that it remains to be seen whether attention training can offset
those memory problems.
The study appears in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.
SOURCES: Dick, B. Anesthesia & Analgesia, May 2007; vol 4: pp
1223-1229. News release, University of Alberta.
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