Sticks and stones may break your bones - but what if you couldn't even feel them? While it may sound like the stuff of science fiction, some people are born with a condition that makes them unable to experience pain. Congenital insensitivity to pain is very rare, and incredibly dangerous. After all, pain is the body's signal to stop that risky activity you're currently engaged in. Without that trigger, what's to keep you from doing serious damage to yourself?
People who can't be hurt have to cope with the world in a different way. Even a hot cup of coffee presents a potential hazard when you have an inability to process the sensation of a burnt tongue. From physical problems to other emotional or behavioral disorders, individuals with this condition can experience them all. Sometimes the condition also includes anhidrosis, or the inability to sweat. Facts about people who can't feel pain are as fascinating as their condition is mysterious.
There is not a definitive count on the number of cases of congenital insensitivity to pain worldwide, but the existing data suggests that this is an extremely rare disorder. The United States has under 100 reported cases of the condition. Japan has a comparatively high number of cases, over 300.
This condition presents in two ways: congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP), and congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA). Both are caused by genetic mutations that interrupt the transmitting of pain signals to the brain.
In addition to pain, the condition can impact the sweat glands and temperature regulation. Individuals with CIPA sweat very little, or not at all, since they can't experience changes in temperature.
Sometimes, the inability to feel pain goes hand in hand with anosmia - the complete loss of the sense of smell. This is due to the same genetic mutation that causes the condition. Those mutated genes can also interfere with the olfactory sensory neurons that transmit smell-related information to the brain.
Since individuals with CIP are impervious to pain - and often temperature as well - they're prone to hurting themselves by accident. Young children frequently injure their cheeks, tongues, and lips through chewing, and sometimes their fingers too. Burns are also a potential danger.