Visceral Pain, its Peculiarities, Sensitization and Challenges.
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Visceral Pain

Visceral Pain

Visceral pain is the pain that affects the internal organs.
Viscera is a Latin word that means 'the soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities.' There are many types of visceral pain - from the mild discomfort of indigestion to the pain of a renal colic. Women especially, are prone to some forms of visceral pain in their reproductive life cycle (period pains, labor pain or postmenopausal pelvic pain).
Only a minority of people will suffer from neuropathic or even post-traumatic pain but all of us will endure throughout our lives a great deal of visceral pain.

Peculiarities of Visceral Pain

Visceral pain differs from the pain felt in somatic organs like the skin, joints, muscle, etc. This happens mainly because many visceral organs are not sensitive to pain. These include diseases of the liver, kidneys, or lungs. These visceral organs in themselves do not hurt; the symptoms of pain felt arise from the abnormal functioning of these organs. However, even minor lesions in visecra like the bladder or the ureters can produce excruciating pain. This is because the internal organs with nociceptors are mostly the hollow viscera (the gut, the bladder, the uterus) and it is from these organs that we get most of our visceral pain sensations.
The second peculiar aspect of visceral pain is that it is often felt in places far way from the actual damaged area. This pain is called as referred pain.


The increased sensitivity of the viscera due to inflammation is called as 'Sensitization'. Sensitization occurs due to an alternation of the sensory neurons in the viscera and an enhanced sensitivity of the sensory pathways in the brain. Currently, there is a lot of scientific interest in the process of sensitization. The aim of this research is to assuage the hyperalgesic sensations caused by the regular functioning of internal organs without interfering with the normal sensitivity of the viscera.

Challenges of Visceral Pain

A major problem with visceral pain-treatment is that adverse reactions to analgesics include disturbed visceral function such as nausea, constipation, and gastric irritation and ulceration. This has to be taken into account when therapy is considered.
Until recently visceral pain was not considered to be a major problem by the very specialists that dealt with it. Obstetricians, gynecologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists and urologists were mainly concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of the underlying disease, and their approach was to assume that if the disease went away so would the pain. Only recently, and mainly because of popular pressure, has visceral pain become a subject that can be treated directly and independently of the accompanying disease as doctors realize that this 'symptom' is often the very centre of the problem.

Unfortunately, we have very few specific painkillers for visceral pain, and the therapies commonly used are extensions of those used for pain in general. Because of the prevalence of visceral pain, there is a great need for therapies aimed specifically at the conditions that cause the pain. This is particularly the case for diseases characterized by visceral hypersensitivity (such as irritable bowel syndrome), in which the therapeutic aim should be to reduce the increased sensations felt from the bowel without damping sensation in general or impairing the ability of the patient to live a normal life.

We may not be able to have a completely pain-free world, but we are trying to reduce the suffering of many men and women who every day face pains that come not from outside but from inside their own bodies.