Giving pain killers to heart attack patients may actually retard their recovery. The stabbing ache in the chest, for instance, is felt when it actually stimulates the body to repair itself, say researchers. The study may help explain why heart attack patients given morphine are more likely to die and could lead to new approaches to treatment, The pain signals stem cells to repair damaged heart cells. Bristol University researchers found that a molecule involved in the sensation of pain is released from heart nerves during a cardiac attack. Called substance P, it draws stem cells from the bone marrow to the area of heart muscle starved of oxygen by the attack, the journal Circulation reports.
Once there, the stem cells can create new blood vessels to supply fresh blood to the heart cells. The findings are from initial experiments in mice and early results in humans, according to the Telegraph. Paolo Madeddu, professor and chairman of experimental cardiovascular medicine at Bristol University, who led the study, said: “The ultimate aim is to develop a therapy which will regenerate the muscle damaged or lost after a heart attack.
“Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the study, said: “This study provides further evidence that giving morphine to patients could have side-effects and means we are going to think very carefully about its use in heart attack cases. Obviously we want to use pain but not at the expense of long-term recovery,” added Pearson. Collectively, heart and circulatory diseases cause more than one in three of all deaths in the UK, accounting for more than 191,000 deaths each year at an estimated cost of £30 billion to the economy, according to the British Heart Foundation.