How chronic pain affects your immune system

12.2.2021 0

As COVID-19 has emerged not so long ago, we have learned that some people are more susceptible to it than others. Some of the factors that seem to increase the severity of the disease include age, smoking, gender, concurrent chronic medical problems, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and underlying lung problems. This has led to the general belief that people with more compromised immune systems are more likely to experience the worst episodes of coronavirus and higher mortality rates.

  • Both chronic pain and prolonged stress can affect immune function.

According to past research conducted on lab mice at McGill University, chronic pain can reprogram the way genes work in the immune system. In fact, chronic pain seems to cause changes in how DNA is marked in special immune cells known as T cells. While it is unclear how much these changes affect the ability of these T cells to fight infection, there appears to be a strong link between chronic pain and changes in the DNA marker of these important infection fighters.

Feeling in constant pain can certainly trigger the stress response, and if the pain remains chronic, it can lead to a state of long-term stress in the body. Think of the stress response as a combination of neurological, endocrine, and immune changes that come together to help the body fend off some danger or threat. If the stress response persists, levels of the hormone cortisol begin to rise. Long-term increases in cortisol levels are associated with decreased immune system function. As an example, elderly caregivers have been found to have lower levels of immune cells such as lymphocytes, slower wound healing and are more susceptible to viral infections.

Patients with painful autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, who are treated with immunosuppressive drugs also have a higher risk of infection. By their nature, immunosuppressive drugs suppress the body's natural immune response.

Chronic pain can also be associated with other chronic conditions that also affect the effectiveness of the immune system. Factors associated with pain, such as the stress response and prolonged inactivity, can lead to changes in your body that increase blood pressure and promote weight gain, which in turn becomes a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. In fact, studies have shown that the incidence of heart disease is significantly higher in those who suffer from chronic pain.