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Is Childhood Intelligence Linked to Pain Problems in Adulthood?

TUESDAY, Dec. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Children who score higher on intelligence tests are less likely to suffer from chronic widespread pain later in life, according to a new study.

This condition is a common musculoskeletal problem affecting 10 percent to 15 percent of adults, the researchers explained. They noted that chronic widespread pain occurs more often among women and people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and is a core symptom of fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that affects an estimated 5 million Americans.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Pain.

"One psychological factor that could potentially be a risk factor for [chronic widespread pain] in adult life is lower cognitive ability in youth," the study's lead researcher Dr. Catharine Gale, of the MRC lifecourse epidemiology unit at University of Southampton, and the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, in the department of psychology at the University of Edinburgh, both in the United Kingdom, said in a journal news release. Cognitive ability is a term used to describe a person's thinking skills.

"Our hypotheses were that men and women who scored lower on the test of intelligence in childhood would have an increased risk of [chronic widespread pain] in midlife and that some of this association would be mediated through socioeconomic status, mental health or lifestyle factors in adulthood," Gale added.

In conducting the study, the researchers examined national survey data from Great Britain on more than 6,900 men and women from the National Child Development Survey. The participants completed an intelligence test when they were 11 years old. Years later at the age of 45, they completed a questionnaire to determine if they experienced chronic widespread pain.

The study revealed that 14 percent of the participants had chronic widespread pain. These men and women, the researchers found, scored lower on the intelligence test they took when they were 11 years old. They were also more likely to have manual jobs, be a smoker or former smoker, and have more psychological distress and a higher body mass index (a measurement of weight based on height and weight).

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the prospective relation between intelligence and [chronic widespread pain]," noted Gale. "Our results show that individuals with higher intelligence in childhood are less likely as adults to develop this common and disabling condition. We now need to understand the mechanisms causing this association."

While the study found an association between chronic widespread pain in adulthood and intelligence in childhood, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about fibromyalgia.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Pain, news release, Nov. 29, 2012

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