Widespread pain linked to higher risks of stroke, dementia onset

CHONGQING, China — Aches and pains can be a sign of anything from a minor ailment to a severe disorder. However, a new study finds feeling pain all over your body may also be a serious red flag for dementia onset later in life. Researchers say widespread pain appears to increase the risk of developing all types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

Widespread pain can be a common form of chronic pain which can often signal the presence of a musculoskeletal disorder. Previous studies show that widespread pain can also be a predictor of cancer, peripheral arterial disease, heart disease, and raises a patient’s overall risk of death. Although scientists have linked chronic pain to cognitive decline, study authors note there’s less evidence that widespread pain can lead to dementia or a stroke.

To find out, researchers examined 2,464 second-generation participants from the decades-long Framingham Heart Study — a group called the Offspring Study. Looking at health records and lab tests from 1990 to 1994 from this group, results show those feeling the most widespread pain through the years are over 40 percent more likely to develop dementia.

Using pain to predict mental decline

Researchers split the members of the Offspring Study into three specific groups. Fourteen percent (347 people) experienced widespread pain. The American College of Rheumatology describes this as feeling pain above or below the waist, on both sides of the body, and in the skull, back, or ribs.

The remaining 2,117 participants fell into either the “other pain” category — only experiencing pain in one or a few joints — and those with no pain at all in their joints. The team also accounted for potentially influential factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, weight, and lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking.

The findings reveal 188 people developed dementia during the study, with 27 percent of these patients dealing with widespread pain. Another 139 people suffered a stroke, with 22 percent coming from the widespread pain group.

After accounting for all factors, researchers calculate that people experiencing widespread pain are 43 percent more likely to develop any form of dementia. They are also 47 percent more likely to have Alzheimer’s and 29 percent more likely to suffer a stroke in comparison to those with no pain.

In older adults over age 65, dementia and Alzheimer’s risks were about the same however, the risk of stroke was 54 percent higher in those with widespread pain.

“These findings provide convincing evidence that [widespread pain] may be a risk factor for all-cause dementia, [Alzheimer’s disease], and stroke. This increased risk is independent of age, sex, multiple sociodemographic factors, and health status and behaviors,” researchers Kanran Wang and Hong Liu say in a media release.

The study appears in the journal Regional Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

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