With the novel coronavirus caused by COVID-19 pandemic surfacing in the past few months, a lot of patients at our pain management rehab have wondered how chronic pain affects the immune system. Does it lower the body’s ability to fight off the disease, mainly because it is apparent that some people are more susceptible to COVID-19 than others? People who have heart conditions, diabetes, and lung issues, hypertension, and are above a specific age contract the disease with more severity than others. This has led experts to believe that anyone with a compromised immune system will be worse hit by the corona virus than others and have a higher risk of mortality. So, this brings us to the question of chronic pain and its impact on the immune system.
Constant stress and chronic pain do impact immune function. It has been observed that continuous pain reprograms specific genes in the immune system. To be more precise, it changes the way DNA is marked in T-cells, which are specialized cells of the immune system that help fight infection. Although studies have been unable to find out how this change affects T-cells’ ability to fight off an infection, we do know that a change does happen.
Another reason chronic pain impacts immunity is stress. Ongoing pain triggers the stress response of the body. When the pain is persistent, the body is in a constant state of stress. This long-term and persisting stress response increases the level of cortisol, a hormone. And a rise in cortisol levels has been known to decline the immune function.
Some chronic pain is related to chronic diseases, which negatively impact the immune system. In such cases, the body is in a prolonged state of inactivity. Add to it chronic stress, and it causes elevated blood pressure, weight gain, and other risk factors. This, in turn, can lead to the development of diabetes, strokes, and other heart conditions.
Some autoimmune disorders are painful, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and they are treated with immunosuppressive medicines. Since these medications inhibit the body’s immune system, people who live with such disorders are at a higher risk of infection. In a gist, chronic pain does affect the immune system, which can make people more susceptible to the novel corona virus.
First, limit the effect of pain on the immunity. For this, decrease all causes of stress. Practice calming techniques to relax an over-anxious nervous system. Gentle yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation are all significant steps. Simple things like unplugging all gadgets, watching funny shows or movies, getting fresh air, or some exercise are also excellent. Lastly, don’t depend on the immune system completely to prevent COVID-19. Always take steps that reduce your exposure to the virus in the first place by:
Stay home, eat well, stay active, and rest plenty. These are the key to avoiding exposure to coronavirus and the pandemic it has brought upon us.