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What is Congenital Insensitivity to Pain?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The purpose of pain is to protect us from harming ourselves. When a person puts his hand on a hot stove, usually his first response is to yank that hand away. People with congenital insensitivity to pain do not feel pain. This means that a person with the disorder may not remove his hand from a hot stove because he does not feel the pain of his hand burning. This can lead to severe problems.

Although it is thoroughly unpleasant, pain is meant to teach us to stay away from dangerous items or situations. Pain can also be an indicator of a bigger problem in our bodies, such as cancer or a broken bone. A person with congenital insensitivity to pain has never felt pain and he never will. He can go through his whole life hurting himself and may never even know it. Medical treatment for people with congenital insensitivity to pain can be difficult as many times doctors make diagnoses partially depending on the location and severity of pain.

Congenital insensitivity to pain is a disorder that affects the part of the body that controls the reception of pain. The nerves that sense pain cannot translate that information to the brain, and so the person does not feel even the slightest bit of discomfort. This condition is congenital, meaning it is present at birth. Thus, a baby with congenital insensitivity to pain may be severely hurt, but will seem like a happy child.

A child with this conditione is in extreme danger. If we bite our tongue, for instance, we stop biting it because it hurts. A child with congenital insensitivity to pain will not stop because he does not know he is hurting himself. Such a child may play with the stove, pull out his hair, electrocute himself or play too roughly and harm himself because there is no negative stimuli telling him to stop. This can lead to severe problems and devastating injuries.

Another form of congenital insensitivity to pain is called congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. It is characterized by a person not being able to feel pain or extreme temperatures, and by being unable to sweat. Such a person may not know that he is too hot or too cold. In addition, without being able to sweat, a person cannot properly regulate his body temperature. No sweat means that the body is not able to properly cool itself, and the person could overheat.

Although congenital insensitivity to pain is rare, it is serious. Usually, people with the disorder do not live past age 25. Without the ability to experience pain, people can break their bones, burn themselves or contract serious illnesses without ever knowing that something is wrong with their body. Thus, they may develop serious infections or diseases that could have been avoided had they sought medical help earlier.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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