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Ask Stanford Med: Neuroscientist taking questions on pain and love's analgesic effects

When you ask someone to describe the physical sensation of love, chances are you'll get an answer like falling head-over-heels, having butterflies in the stomach or walking on sunshine. As it turns out, and as described in a recent Stanford study, those intense, consuming feelings of love can do more than make you happy: They appear to block pain in ways similar to painkillers or illicit drugs.

In honor of Valentine's Day, we've asked Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, senior author of that study, to respond to your questions about the analgesic effects of love - and he's happy to answer general questions about pain research, too.

Mackey's research is focused on explaining the mechanisms of pain perception and control using neuroimaging techniques such as virtual reality and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). He has shown that chronic pain sufferers may be able to reduce pain levels by studying their own live brain images, and he is working with colleagues to develop a diagnostic tool that uses patterns of brain activity to give an objective assessment of whether someone is in pain. He also recently served on an Institute of Medicine committee that issued a report calling for coordinated, national efforts to tackle the chronic-pain epidemic.

To submit your questions to Mackey about the pain-relieving effects of love and the science of pain, send an @reply message to @SUMedicine and include the hashtag #AskSUMed in your tweet. (Not a Twitter user? Then please submit a comment below.) We'll collect questions until Friday at 5 pm. In submitting questions, please abide by the following ground rules:

  • Stay on topic
  • Be respectful to the person answering your questions
  • Be respectful to one another in submitting questions
  • Do not monopolize the conversation or post the same question repeatedly
  • Kindly ignore disrespectful or off topic comments
  • Twitter handles and/or names may be used in the responses

Medical school experts taking questions on the @SUMedicine feed will answer a selection of the questions submitted, but not all of them.

Finally - and you may have already guessed this - an answer to any question submitted as part of this feature is meant to offer medical information, not medical advice. These answers are not a basis for any action or inaction, and they're also not meant to replace the evaluation and determination of your doctor, who will address your specific medical needs and can make a diagnosis and give you the appropriate care.

Previously: A call to fight chronic-pain epidemic, Stanford scientists work towards developing a "painometer", Stanford's Sean Mackey discusses recent advances in pain research and treatment, Relieving Pain in America: A new report from the Institute of Medicine, Long-term love may dull pain, study shows, Love blocks pain, Stanford study shows and Oh what a pain
Photo by Ryan Weisgerber

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