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Researchers Study Link between Chronic Pain Conditions

Written by Adam Zewe

More than 60 percent of women who suffer from temporomandibular disorders (TMD) also report symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) scientists Richard Traub, PhD, and Dean Dessem, PhD, seek to better understand the correlation between the two diseases.

The researchers, who work in the Department of Neural and Pain Sciences, developed an animal model that sheds some light on the simultaneous occurrences, or comorbidity, of TMD and IBS. According to their model, subjects with jaw pain (a symptom of TMD) exhibit excessive lower abdomen pain (a symptom of IBS) when placed under stress. Interestingly, increased abdominal pain only occurs when estrogen is present. Currently, no clear data exists that explains why the correlation between IBS and TMD is estrogen dependent. "Our goal is to develop a better understanding of the mechanisms that exist between these relationships," remarks Dr. Dessem.

Comorbidity of chronic pain conditions is a hot topic at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which held a conference on the issue this summer. The NIH recently awarded Dr. Traub and Dr. Dessem and a $275,000 grant for their project. Their results may have implications beyond even TMD and IBS, since many chronic pain conditions, like migraine headaches and fibromyalgia, show some levels of comorbidity. "I think this is a very important issue, since it is likely that comorbidity between all these different conditions has some commonality," Dr. Dessem states.

The data Dr. Traub and Dr. Dessem collect could someday be used to develop new treatments for TMD, IBS and other chronic pain conditions. Most chronic pain treatments have been utilized for many years, so uncovering novel remedies is an exciting possibility for Dr. Traub. "It's a very relevant issue. Pain is the number one reason people go to the doctor. It creates a tremendous burden on society, with an annual cost of over $600 billion in medical treatment and lost productivity. It's the number one reason people miss work," he says.

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