A new study found that chronic pain and tinnitus may actually share an unexpected link.
Researchers say that chronic pain, often characterised as pain lasting more than twelve weeks, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), a condition that causes buzzing or ringing in the ears, are both the result of erroneous activity in two regions of the brain.
These regions are called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens and they are both located in the front of the brain. In some cases they may keep out unnecessary sensory stimuli. Joseph Rauschecker, a professor of biophysics and physiology at Georgetown University in Washington, said that there are several systems in the brain that filter out unimportant signals, since every second people are practically bombarded with a flood of new information.
For instance if a train came by every hour, the noise would most probably make you go mad. However, the brain would soon realise that the sound is harmless and it does not pose a threat to your life, and after some time you will not even notice to it any more, Rauschecker said.
In the case of people who suffer from chronic pain or tinnitus, the brain does not function the way it should, meaning that it is unable to filter out the unnecessary signals. All that information is thus able to get through.
According to Rauschecker, in both of the cases – chronic pain an tinnitus – the brain receives signals from the body that are not important, but it is incapable of filtering them out.
Functional MRI studies and structural MRI studies showed that similar things lead to chronic pain and tinnitus. For instance, the functional MRI studies, which look at the activity in the brain, found that for patients who suffer from chronic pain and for those with tinnitus the nucleus accumbers had an increased activity. The structural MRI studies, which observe the white and grey matter in the brain, showed that patients with chronic pain and those with tinnitus had a smaller ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Rauschecker believes that this new study may help scientists find new treatments and preventive measures for chronic pain, as well as for tinnitus.
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