In the largest study of its kind — involving more than 15,000 stroke survivors — researchers found that over 10 percent developed chronic pain.
“Chronic pain syndromes are common, even following strokes of mild to moderate severity,” said Martin J. O’Donnell, MD, lead author and professor of translational medicine at the National University of Ireland in Galway.
“It is associated with greater decline in physical and cognitive function, making it an important medical complication after stroke.”
For over two years researchers followed people who had survived mild to moderate strokes. The patients, who did not have a history of chronic pain before their initial stroke, were enrolled in a trial of treatments aimed at preventing a second stroke.
The most common types of chronic pain reported after an ischemic stroke were neuropathic pain, tight or stiff muscles (spasticity), unexplained shoulder pain and central stroke pain. The latter involves a change in the brain that can cause a simple touch or sensation to be perceived as pain.
Stroke patients who developed chronic pain were more than twice as likely to become more dependent on caregivers
“We suspect that some of the association between chronic pain and decline in cognitive test performance may be related to the use of medications to treat pain, but this was not evaluated in our study” said O’Donnell. “Our study emphasizes the importance of evaluating interventions to prevent post-stroke pain in high-risk individuals.”
Patients at higher risk of developing chronic pain after strokes are women, people who drink more alcohol and patients with a history of diabetes, depression or vascular disease.
“Our findings show that new chronic pain syndromes are an important long-term complication of ischemic stroke, even in a patient population with mild-to-moderate-severity ischemic stroke,” the authors wrote. “Clinical trials, designed to prevent post-stroke pain syndromes, would seem to be an obvious target of future clinical research.”