A new study finds that simply reading pain-related words activates areas of the brain associated with pain in migraine patients, say scientists.

The study compared a group of people who suffer from migraines with a group of healthy control subjects. All participants viewed pain-related adjectives and negative, non-pain-related adjectives. They were instructed to either generate mental images (imagination condition) or to count the number of vowels (distraction condition). At the same time, their brain activity was recorded using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“In migraine patients, pain-related adjectives as compared with negative adjectives elicited increased activations in the left orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula during imagination and in the right secondary somatosensory cortex and posterior insula during distraction. More pronounced pain-related activation was observed in affective pain-related regions in the patient as compared with the control group during imagination. During distraction, no differential engagement of single brain structures in response to pain-related words could be observed between groups.”

“Overall, our findings indicate that there is an involvement of brain regions associated with the affective and sensory-discriminative dimension of pain in the processing of pain-related words in migraine patients, and that the recruitment of those regions associated with pain-related affect is enhanced in patients with chronic pain experiences.”

Pain – March 5, 2011;Epub.


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