Pain evokes different responses in different people. We are still trying to understand fundamental questions about which systems in the brain modulate pain perception. We’re also seeking to understand why different cultural and ethnic groups, react to pain in different ways.
One interesting new finding is that people with red hair are more susceptible to pain than the general population. Red hair is one of the first visible human traits that has been directly linked to the amount of anaesthetic required to control pain.
Researchers at the University of Louisville, in Kentucky, found that redheads require twenty per cent more anaesthesia to alleviate pain than people with other hair colours. They found that unconscious reflex movements, elicited by painful stimulation, were controlled with less drug for blond and dark haired patients. This work is important, since we must always know the exact difference between an effective dose of anaesthetic and a toxic dose. It’s often quite a small difference.
It’s thought that the genes responsible for red hair also have a role in managing pain. Since red hair can be linked to particular mutations, it’s hoped that this finding will help us better understand some of the genetic reasons for our different responses to pain.
So next time someone says “the pain is all in the head,” you could agree, that this may be partially true, at least for redheads.