Does Chronic Pain Raise the Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer's, or Stroke

Does Chronic Pain Raise the Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or Stroke?

Researchers found a link between chronic pain and certain health conditions
Read Time: 2 minutes
Jul 25, 2022

In the year 2016, 20.4% of American adults suffered from chronic pain. That’s 50 million people across the country. Chronic pain can lead to other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, and more. Recently, it’s also been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke.

Studies Link Chronic Pain to Increased Risk

Studies performed in China have linked chronic pain to an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke. The researchers found that the increased risk occurred across all patients with chronic pain, regardless of age, health, or any other factor. Prior studies had found an increased risk of cardiovascular events and cancer in those with chronic pain.

How Did the Researchers Perform the Study?

In the study, researchers from Chongqing Medical University in China used data that came from the Framingham Heart Study, located in Framingham, Massachusetts. The FHS had been doing a generations-long study to better understand heart disease. Part of the FHS’s study had asked if patients experienced chronic pain. The Chongqing Medical University researchers used this data to examine whether there was an increased risk of dementia or stroke.

What Causes the Increased Risk?

The researchers had three different theories as to why chronic pain increased the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke:

  1. Lifestyle factors: those with chronic pain may not exercise or eat nutritiously due to that pain
  2. Preclinical phase: chronic pain could be a precursor symptom of stroke or dementia
  3. Competing for resources: the brain only has so many resources and cognitive processing may suffer if too much is devoted to managing pain and stress

The researchers admit that due to the observational nature of their study, they were limited in their ability to establish why chronic pain is linked to stroke and dementia. Other researchers found the study valuable in establishing that there was a link in the first place.

What Qualifies as Chronic Pain?

Pain is considered chronic when it persists for longer than twelve weeks. Chronic pain sometimes occurs following an injury or surgery, but it can occur in people with no history of either.

What Causes Chronic Pain?

Sometimes chronic pain has a clear cause while sometimes it doesn’t. Cancer, arthritis, and other long-term illnesses can cause chronic pain. Others suffer from chronic pain as a result of an injury. In others, pain is caused by stress, anxiety, or depression. Sometimes, there are multiple factors contributing to chronic pain.

How Is Chronic Pain Managed?

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Chronic pain is often treated with medication, although the treatment does depend on the cause of the pain. Lifestyle changes and physical therapy may also be included in the treatment plan. Ideally, the pain management plan would also involve treating whatever caused the chronic pain in the first place. Physical therapy may help treat chronic pain, even if it’s not caused by an injury.

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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