As a doctor, how would you feel if you were to conduct a serious operation on a woman who feels no pain? This is what the surgeon of 66-year-old Jo Cameron felt when Jo was about to undergo a major painful hand surgery just a few years back. Jo informed the doctor that she probably wouldn’t need anesthesia as she never felt pain throughout her entire body. This naturally made her surgeon quite confused, as he initially disregarded her request. The surgeon was Dr. Devjit Srivastava, a consultant in anesthesia and pain medicine at the Raigmore Hospital in Scotland, and in his interview, he stated that he couldn’t just believe whatever she was saying.
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Meet Jo Cameron- The Woman Who Feels No Pain
Dr. Srivastava nevertheless gave this woman who feels no pain anesthesia, but after the procedure, the doctor was quite surprised to realize that Cameron didn’t really request or take any of the prescribed painkillers, and a single look into her medical history highlighted that she had never really reported herself experiencing pain or ever needing painkillers, despite having gone through childbirth, broken bones, and cuts. In fact, she had been burnt once too- an injury that she only noticed after she had smelt burning flesh.
After visiting multiple pain geneticists through the United Kingdom, the woman learned that she has a couple of extremely rare genetic mutations that make her insensitive to pain. The mutations also had a major role in her physical ability to recover from injuries with absolutely no residual scar, something that would explain her absolutely low levels of depression and anxiety- as she also had the lowest possible scores on a bunch of questionnaires that would measure the symptoms for depression and other conditions.
In a news release, Cameron mentioned that she had absolutely no clue until a few years back that there was something unusual about the amount of pain that she felt- she simply thought that the pain she felt was absolutely normal.
The Woman Who Feels No Pain Has A Rare Genetic Makeup
The discovery of the woman who feels no pain has been put up in a case study, which was published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, which described how Cameron has had a gene mutation that codes for an enzyme that researchers have been calling FAAH-OUT, which has had known links to sensitivity to pain. She also has quite a microdeletion in the FAAH gene- a major finding that seems quite pivotal considering past research has highlighted that mice without the FAAH gene show accelerated wound healing, reduced pain sensitivity, enhanced fear-extinction memory, and reduced anxiety.
For a long time scientists have studied people who have been quite insensitive to pain, but with the woman who feels no pain, this is absolutely the first time the mutation has been identified. Dr. Stephen G. Waxman, a major neurologist at Yale University, has informed the New York Times that every single one of the mutations does teach something- and move towards pointing at a particular gene that could be a potential target for more effective pain medications.
The hope that is circulating now is that discoveries like the woman who feels no pain would lead to the better treatment of people with chronic pain, which usually affects close to 50 million adults in the country- and is often the major reason why people become addicted to opioids.
Image credit: BBC