Parental stress during pregnancy and early childhood can make an individual more pain sensitive later in life, says a study.

The research published in the medical journal Pain last month stated that people who experience more stress in the womb and in their early childhood are likely to have more pain sensitivity than those who experience no or less exposure to stress during the period.

This is not the first time a study is focussing on the various adverse effects of parental stress on children, but this could be the first time a study is highlighting the long-term effects of parental stress on their little ones.

“Significant life stress is known to result in changes to the body’s biological systems partially by modifying gene expression,” lead researcher Rob Waller from the Curtin University in Perth, Australia, told Reuters.

The researcher further explained that stress has the ability to start processes that can deactivate genes that could help fight off infections and activate genes that are associated with inflammation. This is the prime reason for relating stress with several common inflammatory-related diseases, like cancer and diabetes.

“For some people with persistent pain that is interfering with their daily life, the influence of previous or current life stress may be an important consideration. Acknowledging these contributions to how much pain they feel and learning how to successfully manage stress can improve an individual’s control of their pain and improve quality of life,” Waller said.

The researcher also suggested some of the best strategies to manage stress. Like “mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques, regular exercise, good sleep habits, psychological strategies to develop positive stress coping responses and socializing”.

For the study, the research team tested the pain sensitivity of more than 1,000 young adults at age 22. The team mainly looked into two different types of pain sensitivity, response to cold and response to pressure.

Then they looked into the various stressful life events that may have occurred during the early childhood of the study’s participants or while they were in the womb. Some of the factors considered by the researchers were pregnancy complications, financial hardships, including job loss, breakups of marital problems, the death of a family member or close friend or residential moves.

The researchers found that individuals from dysfunctional family life and early life stressors were more likely to have pain sensitivity related to cold. They also found that problematic childhood was associated with less pain sensitivity due to pressure.

“A pro-inflammatory state can prime the nervous system and is the key mechanism underlying higher pain sensitivity. While not a prerequisite, higher pain sensitivity may ultimately increase the risk for persistent pain,” the lead researcher said.

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