Study to examine ethnic differences in pain

Pain affects people differently. For example, studies have shown that African-American and Hispanic people tend to have stronger responses to pain than white people. The question is why?

With funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, University of Florida College of Dentistry researcher Roger Fillingim, Ph.D., has received a $713,000 revision to a $3.6 million grant he received earlier in 2009 to study whether whites and African-Americans differ in their response to arthritis pain. The stimulus-funded addition will allow Fillingim, a professor of community dentistry and behavioral science, to find out how his study participants’ perception of pain differs from healthy individuals, too.

“Many people do not know there are these disparities in pain,” Fillingim said. “If we want to correct these disparities, we have to understand where they come from.”

Aside from showing how African-Americans and whites perceive arthritis pain differently, Fillingim’s team also hopes to identify biomarkers to predict pain severity. The researchers will also be looking at social and psychological factors that could be contributing to differences in pain perception.

The stimulus funding will allow the researchers to take the study a step further, too. Instead of just comparing people with arthritis to each other, they will now be able to compare people with arthritis to healthy people of the same age and race. For example, researchers theorize that people with arthritis may be more sensitive to pain throughout their bodies. UF researchers would be able to explore that question through this study.

But primarily, Fillingim says his team’s goal is to improve how pain is treated in all individuals. To do that, doctors must first understand how the pain system functions in different groups people, and whether there are genetic or other factors that are responsible for these variations.

“It’s very complex, but we are just trying to look at several aspects associated with race that might give us some ideas for how to tailor treatment,” Fillingim said.

About the Author

Karen Rhodenizer's picture

Karen Rhodenizer

Communications Director, College of Dentistry

She received her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from the UF College of Journalism and Communications in 1987 and worked for several years in Jacksonville, Fla., after graduation before returning...Read More