SUNDAY, April 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- It's been a mystery why some people can withstand pain better than others. Now a new study suggests that genetics may play a role in whether your pain tolerance is low or high.
Researchers pinpointed four genes that could help explain why perceptions of pain differ from person to person.
"Our study is quite significant because it provides an objective way to understand pain and why different individuals have different pain tolerance levels," study author Dr. Tobore Onojjighofia, with Proove Biosciences and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in an academy news release.
"Identifying whether a person has these four genes could help doctors better understand a patient's perception of pain," Onojjighofia explained. The research was supported by Proove Biosciences.
The study involved more than 2,700 people taking prescription painkillers, called opioids (commonly known as narcotics), for chronic pain. The participants were asked to rate their pain on a scale from zero to 10. After excluding those who reported their pain as zero, the researchers divided the remaining patients into three groups depending on their pain score.
Of all the participants, 9 percent were classified as having low pain perception. Meanwhile 46 percent of the patients were considered to have moderate pain. Finally, 45 percent of the participants were rated as having high pain perception.
The participants were also evaluated for the following genes: COMT, DRD2, DRD1 and OPRK1.
The DRD1 gene was more common among those with low pain perception, the study revealed. The researchers found this gene variant was 33 percent more prevalent in the low-pain group than in the high-pain group.
For those with moderate pain, the COMT and OPRK genes were seen more. COMT was 25 percent more common in those with moderate pain than those with high pain perception. OPRK was 19 percent more prevalent, the investigators found.
Meanwhile, the DRD2 gene variant was 25 percent more common among those with a high pain perception than those with moderate pain.
"Chronic pain can affect every other part of life," Onojjighofia said. "Finding genes that maybe play a role in pain perception could provide a target for developing new therapies and help physicians better understand their patients' perceptions of pain."
The study findings, released Sunday, are scheduled for presentation on April 30 at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Philadelphia. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
According to its website, California-based Proove provides doctors with "information to improve the selection, dosing, and evaluation of medications. The company offers proprietary laboratory testing reimbursed by insurance carriers."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about pain.