Results of a small study conducted by University of Florida researchers suggest that inflammation may occur more rapidly, last longer, and be of higher intensity in older adults with pain, than in younger adults. The study found that when pain was induced in older subjects, they experienced a more rapid increase in proteins associated with inflammation, and that these stayed in the older adults’ bodies longer. Anti-inflammatory cytokines were additionally observed to peak later in older subjects than in younger. Their findings suggest that older patients may be at greater risk of transition from acute pain to chronic pain, and that taking anti-inflammatories soon after an acute pain provoking event, such as injury or a medical procedure, may help to forestall this development. The research appears in Experimental Gerontology.
The study comprised 8 older adults, average age 68, and 9 younger adults, average age 21. Both groups were healthy, with no incidence of diabetes or hypertension. Pain was induced via either heat applied to the feet, or a cold ice bath, and adjusted to a self-report level of 4 out of 10 for each subject. Blood samples to test for inflammatory markers were taken before administration of the stimulus, and at various points thereafter. The older cohort evidenced consistently higher levels of inflammation than did the younger. Since older patients typically undergo painful procedures more often, it is possible that an accumulation of these acute pain events may predispose them to chronic pain, the research suggested. But additional work is needed to explore this possible relationship between pain and aging.
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Read a news story about the study findings here.
The journal abstract may be read here.