Research: Pain meds can affect emotional distress

August 16, 2011 10:01:19 PM PDT
Many of us take an over-the-counter medication to treat a headache or muscle pain, but new research says the active ingredient appears to have an effect on emotional distress as well.

If you're suffering emotionally, the pain can almost feel physical, but can emotional pain be treated in the same way as physical pain?

Researchers at the University of Florida measured brain activity in people who were experiencing social rejection -- even something as minor as an unreturned phone call.

"Emotional pain hurts physically because, as research has shown, it targets the same neurological pathways," said clinical psychiatrist Clara Lora, MD.

After identifying the affected pathways with MRIs, doctors gave the patients acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. The study, published by the Journal of Psychological Science, found the drug lessened the brain's response to the pain signals.

Those patients also reported feeling less-distressed than a control group given a placebo.

Researchers believe the centers of the brain that handle both social and physical pain can over lap and produce similar symptoms.

"The physical symptoms of emotional pain get translated as a headache, as a general malaise, as fatigue, even kind of a tightening of the chest," Lora said.

Researchers stopped short of recommending Tylenol for emotional distress, but they're hoping the study will lead to a better understanding of the brain's reaction to emotional pain.

Researchers, however, did say the acetaminophen appeared to work on similar areas of the brain affected by some anti-depressant medications.


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