Pain is something that the vast majority of us just have to deal with, and sometimes on a daily basis. Not being able to feel pain is almost unimaginable, but that’s the life one woman in Scotland has been living for 66 years. She doesn’t feel cuts, burns, and even surgery doesn’t register with her, and she’s lived her entire life thinking that was perfectly normal.
Her case, which was published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, only caught the attention of doctors after she recovered from orthopedic hand surgery with no reported pain. As with all patients, she was given a suite of pain-numbing meds while the operation was carried out, but even after the drugs wore off she reported absolutely no pain whatsoever. That’s when doctors realized something was amiss.
The woman’s post-surgery pain score was a “0/10,” she said. She was sent home, but upon following up with her and again being told she had zero pain from the typically painful surgery, doctors decided to take a closer look.
After diving into the woman’s medical history, doctors realized that she had never complained of any pain of any type, including after various operations. She told the researchers that she had a history of “painless injuries” including broken bones and burns that she only noticed upon smelling her burning flesh, but pain never factored in.
According to the report, the rest of her family feels pain normally with the exception of her son who has “some degree of pain insensitivity” but nothing compared to his mother. The woman also has no history of anxiety or depression, and scored zeroes on all mental health questionnaires, indication zero symptoms. A recent car crash that she was involved in also didn’t phase her, and she doesn’t know what panicking feels like.
An examination of her genes seems to have provided the explanation for all of this. Researchers note that she has a microdeletion in her DNA, as well as an abnormal FAAH gene, which has been linked to varying degrees of pain insensitivity in others.
The researchers suggest that the woman’s “genomic rearrangement” is probably more common than we think, and that it’s likely there are others living pain-free lives without actually realizing how special that is. After all, it took 66 years for this particular patient to be discovered, and she’s likely not alone.