Negative emotions increase itching

September 12, 2012 by
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

Emotions influence the experience of both pain and itch, with negative emotions eliciting higher levels of itch and pain compared to positive emotions, according to research published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

A total of 77 healthy female participants watched film clips to induce a negative or positive emotional state. Two clips from the movie Happy Feet were used for the positive emotion condition, and 2 clips from the movie Irreversible was used for the negative emotion condition. Electrical stimulation, histamine iontophoresis, and the cold pressor test were used to induce itch and pain.

“This study showed for the first time that people experience higher levels of itch elicited by histamine when they are in a negative, rather than a positive, emotional state, and replicated previous findings that pain levels elicited by the cold pressor test are increased when a person is in a negative, rather than a positive, emotional state,” Dr. van Laarhoven and colleagues conclude.

Potential mechanisms that may underlie the effect of emotions on itch and pain sensations may involve deactivation or activation of various brain regions that occur during the experiencing of emotions. These areas may include the anterior cingulate cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and insula. These areas are also activated during the anticipation of pain and itch sensations.

Chiropractic plays an important role in managing the way these areas of the brain fire together, which is why people often report an improvement in their skin or hypersensitivity reactions. In patients with chronic itch or pain, negative emotions may be part of a vicious cycle of symptoms worsening, so understanding environmental factors, the impact of relationships, and stress on the nervous system becomes vital to getting well.

Reference: Br J Dermatol. 2012;167:262-269.

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