Pain perception during self-reported distress and calmness in patients with borderline personality disorder and self-mutilating behavior

Psychiatry Res. 2000 Sep 11;95(3):251-60. doi: 10.1016/s0165-1781(00)00179-7.


Self-mutilation occurs in 70-80% of patients who meet DSM-IV criteria for borderline personality disorder. Approximately 60% of these patients report that they do not feel pain during acts of self-mutilation such as cutting or burning. Findings of recent studies measuring pain perception in patients with BPD are difficult to interpret since variables such as distress, dissociation or relevant psychotropic medication have not been controlled. The Cold Pressor Test (CPT) and the Tourniquet Pain Test (TPT) were administered to 12 female patients with BPD who reported analgesia during self-mutilation and 19 age-matched healthy female control subjects. All subjects were free of psychotropic medication. The patients were studied on two occasions: during self-reported calmness and during intensive distress (strong urge to cut or burn themselves). Even during self-reported calmness, patients with BPD showed a significantly reduced perception of pain compared to healthy control subjects in both tests. During distress, pain perception in BPD patients was further significantly reduced as compared with self-reported calmness. The present findings show that self-mutilating patients with BPD who experience analgesia during self-injury show an increased threshold for pain perception even in the absence of distress. This may reflect a state-independent increased pain threshold which is further elevated during stress. Interpretation of these findings is limited by their reliance upon self-reports.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / complications
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / physiopathology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Threshold*
  • Self Disclosure
  • Self Mutilation / physiopathology
  • Self Mutilation / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Survival Analysis