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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder triggers hypersensitivity to pain

Staff Report

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center hope to determine why post-traumatic stress disorder seems to trigger hypersensitivity to pain. The Department of Defense recently awarded a three-year, $1.35 million grant to the OU College of Pharmacy to study the link between PTSD and chronic pain.

“While pain sensitivity with PTSD has been well-documented in clinical settings, it is not well understood. In fact, there has been little laboratory study of this phenomenon,” said lead investigator Kelly Standifer, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of pharmaceutical sciences.

Standifer is looking at changes at the molecular level to try to determine whether PTSD exacerbates the pain of nerve injury or causes the development of chronic pain to occur more quickly. In laboratory models, researchers are comparing molecular changes brought on by pain from nerve injury both in the presence and absence of PTSD.

They suspect the PTSD-pain trigger may lie in a specific peptide in the brain. This peptide fine-tunes the body’s response to stress, anxiety, pain sensitivity and inflammation.

“We want to determine if blocking some of the biochemical changes produced by PTSD would also produce better pain relief or block development of the chronic pain state,” Professor Standifer said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic experience such as combat exposure, violent crimes, major, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, toxic contamination and death of a loved one, just to name a few.

Symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind a person of the event or feeling hyper-alert of dangerous situations, guilt, nightmares, flashbacks, anger and irritability, sight sound and smell recollection, decreased libido interest, increased substance abuse, a deeply negative world view and depression.

A 2008 report by the Rand Corp. estimated that nearly 20 percent of 300,000 military personnel who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffered from PTSD or major depression. According to the National Center for PTSD, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 to 34 percent of patients with chronic pain also have PTSD, while 45 to 87 percent of patients with PTSD have chronic pain. Although people of all ages, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds can develop PTSD if exposed to a life threatening event, statistics gathered from past events indicate that the risk of PTSD continues to grow throughout the nation.  For more information visit or call 1-800-273-8255

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