Risk for Pain and Mental Illness are Linked, Swedish Study Suggests

Risk for Pain and Mental Illness are Linked, Swedish Study Suggests

Researchers found that patients with fibromyalgia, as well as those with abdominal or back pain, have a higher risk for developing depression or anxiety.

Moreover, those suffering from mental illness seem to have an increased risk for developing pain, which supports a bidirectional risk between both conditions.

The study “Comorbidity between pain and mental illness – evidence of a bidirectional relationship” was published in the European Journal of Pain.

Researchers performed a population analysis using Skåne Healthcare Register, which holds all the healthcare consultations in primary care, outpatient specialized care and inpatient care that occurred in the Skåne Region of Sweden from 2007-2016.

“The region holds 13% of the national population and corresponds demographically to the whole of Sweden,” they wrote.

The data was used to understand if patients with fibromyalgia or other types of pain (here limited to dorsalgia, pain stemming from the spinal column, or abdominal pain) have an increased risk of developing mental illness, specifically depression or anxiety, compared to the rest of the population. Researchers also tried to answer the opposite question, i.e., whether patients with mental illness have an increased risk to develop pain or fibromyalgia.

The study included a total of 504,365 individuals 18 or older without a previous history of mental illness or pain.

The analysis showed that patients with pain undergo higher risks of developing mental illness compared to those without pain, and the opposite also is true. Patients with mental illness also have a higher risk of developing future pain compared to those without mental illness.

The increased risk was detected in patients with fibromyalgia or abdominal/back pain.

The risk of developing mental illness after pain was higher than the reverse (developing pain after mental illness). Patients with fibromyalgia, however, showed the opposite trend, as the risk of developing fibromyalgia after mental illness was found to be higher.

Overall, “this study shows a bidirectional influence of similar magnitude of pain and mental illness respectively,” researchers wrote.

“In monitoring patients with pain or mental illness, a focus on both conditions is thus important to develop appropriate, targeted interventions and may increase the likelihood of improved outcomes,” the study concluded.