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Approved research

Risk factors for chronic pain

Principal Investigator: Professor David Bennett
Approved Research ID: 49572
Approval date: January 10th 2020

Lay summary

Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than 3 months, it is often more severe than would be expected given the level of injury and it is poorly responsive to treatments that would normally be used for acute pain (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or opioids). Chronic pain is a major cause of human suffering because it affects 1 in 5 of the general population and as the population gets older then chronic pain is predicted to become more common. As well as causing great individual suffering chronic pain has a major negative economic impact due to the use of health resources and preventing chronic pain sufferers from working. To give one example it is estimated that the cost of lower back pain to the NHS in 2008 was £2.1 billion. The conditions associated with chronic pain include musculoskeletal disorders such as lower back pain and fibromyalgia, pain due to damage to the nervous system (called neuropathic pain) such as painful diabetic neuropathy and headache. We do not yet understand why after developing the same condition such as diabetes some patients develop chronic pain and others do not. This is likely to be due to complex interactions between clinical factors (for instance how severe the diabetic neuropathy is), environmental factors (eg. smoking and drinking alcohol) and genetic factors. The aim of this study is to better understand the genetic, clinical and environmental risk factors for these conditions. We will use questionnaires to define if patients have chronic pain and what disorders may have predisposed them to developing pain. We will then compare the genetic, clinical and environmental risk factors in those patients with and without chronic pain. We would also like to take into account psychological factors that are often associated with chronic pain such as anxiety and depression. A sub-set of patients in UK-Biobank have had brain imaging and we would like to see if there are any particular features in terms of brain structure or activity on imaging which are more common in those patients with chronic pain. We would also like to follow up patients over time to understand why some patients develop pain after clinical procedures such as surgery. We hope to use this information so that medical professionals can: predict who is at risk of chronic pain, can target current treatments more effectively and in the long run can develop new treatments for chronic pain.