Decreased perception of pain may serve as a marker for risk of hypertension, according to research conducted by Christopher R. France, PhD, Ohio University. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, often is referred to as a "silent" killer because individuals rarely show outward signs of the condition.
Pain often serves the crucial biological purpose of signaling a physiological threat. Therefore, decreased perception of pain may hinder accurate and early detection of cardiac disease or heart attack. Data from the longitudinal Framingham Heart Study indicate that men and women with hypertension are almost twice as likely as others to suffer an unrecognized myocardial infarction, possibly because chest pain is suppressed during episodes of myocardial ischemia, insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle.
"A growing body of evidence suggests that decreased perception of pain, or hypoalgesia, is not a consequence of high blood pressure, as some scientists have believed," said France. "Rather, hypoalgesia may precede the onset of hypertension in individuals whose families have a history of hypertension, elevated resting blood pressure, or exaggerated cardiovascular reaction to stress." The research appears in the November issue of Psychophysiology.
"From a theoretical perspective, attempts to understand the biological basis of hypoalgesia may lead to new insights into understanding the mechanisms of hypertension," said France. "From a practical perspective, hypoalgesia may serve as a valuable method of identifying those at greatest risk for clinically significant blood pressure elevations."
The research was supported by the American Heart Association's National Center and the Ohio-West Virginia Affiliate.
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