Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Pain Treatment With Benefits

Sometimes a treatment may have unexpected effects. This month's award goes to the young woman who was referred to us because of her chronic pain syndrome. This is one hell of a condition, it frequently drives people to the brink of suicide --and many take the big leap.

One of the treatment options for chronic pain is spinal cord stimulation. An electode is placed against the spinal cord and a small current is applied to stimulate the fibers in the spinal cord that mediate signals of pain. A pacemaker is then implanted under the skin to generate the electrical current. The patient may then turn the current up or down with an external remote control device. About half of the patients benefit from this treatment.

Not all benefit as much as this young lady. She came in for a follow-up and was quite happy with the pain relief. Blushing a little, she said that there is another effect, which she hadn't mentioned to anyone before. The effect was this: Every time she turned on the device, she experienced repeated orgasms. We concluded that things could be worse and decided not to change anything - after all, the stimulator eased her pain considerably so the treatment was a success.

She was our first patient to experience this, but a literature search did reveal reports of similar cases. Outside of medical literature, ABC News Houston ran a related story last september. Sound like just the thing for you or your girl? Volunteers wanted.

I was immediately reminded of the 1970's Woody Allen movie, Sleeper, where the Orgasmatron was first introduced. A rather clumsy device, that, like a phone booth. The famed Australian high-tech industry has developed a budget version.

I've thought about orgasms a lot (haven't we all). Specifically, about the neurobiology of orgasms. I find it intriguing that we have a built-in neurochemical mechanism to produce the ultimate high, the biggest rush of all. Without using any recreational chemicals, we can produce a storm of endorphins to match and surpass the effects of even the strongest drugs. The biggest kicks from drugs are often compared to orgasms. The implication is this: Since we have this inherent ability, it follows that we are capable of producing the effects of the strongest painkillers, and possibly other medicines as well.


1 comment:

Janine said...

Hmmm.. now just how does a physican drop that potential side effect into the conversation to assure informed consent? :)