13 May 2010

Heat therapy for abdominal pain

ScienceDaily (Jul. 5, 2006)The old wives’ tale that heat relieves abdominal pain, such as colic or menstrual pain, has been scientifically proven by a UCL (University
College London) scientist, who will present the findings today at the
Physiological Society’s annual conference hosted by UCL.

Dr Brian King, of the UCL Department of Physiology, led the research
that found the molecular basis for the long-standing theory that heat,
such as that from a hot-water bottle applied to the skin, provides
relief from internal pains, such as stomach aches, for up to an hour.
Dr King said: “The pain of colic, cystitis and period pain is caused
by a temporary reduction in blood flow to or over-distension of hollow
organs such as the bowel or uterus, causing local tissue damage and
activating pain receptors.

“The heat doesn’t just provide comfort and have a placebo effect –
it actually deactivates the pain at a molecular level in much the same
way as pharmaceutical painkillers work. We have discovered how this
molecular process works.”
If heat over 40 degrees Celsius is applied to the skin near to where
internal pain is felt, it switches on heat receptors located at the
site of injury. These heat receptors in turn block the effect of
chemical messengers that cause pain to be detected by the body.

The team found that the heat receptor, known as TRPV1, can block
P2X3 pain receptors. These pain receptors are activated by ATP, the
body’s source of energy, when it is released from damaged and dying
cells. By blocking the pain receptors, TRPV1 is able to stop the pain
being sensed by the body.

Dr King added: “The problem with heat is that it can only provide
temporary relief. The focus of future research will continue to be the
discovery and development of pain relief drugs that will block P2X3
pain receptors. Our research adds to a body of work showing that P2X3
receptors are key to the development of drugs that will alleviate
debilitating internal pain.”

Scientists made this discovery using recombinant DNA technology to
make both heat and pain receptor proteins in the same host cell and
watching the molecular interactions between the TRPV1 protein and the
P2X3 protein, switched on by capsaicin, the active ingredient in
chilli, and ATP, respectively.

Adapted from materials provided by University College London.
University College London (2006, July 5). Heat Halts Pain Inside The Body. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 19, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2006/07/060705090603.htm

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