UNDERSTAND the problem
In 1931, the French medical missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote,
“Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself.” Today, pain has become the universal disorder, a serious and costly public health issue, and a challenge for family, friends, and healthcare providers who must give support to the individual suffering from the physical as well as the emotional consequences of pain.
The Two Faces of Pain: Acute and Chronic
What is pain? The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.
It is useful to distinguish between two basic types of pain, acute and chronic, and they differ greatly.
Acute pain, for the most part, results from disease, inflammation, or injury to tissues. This type of pain generally comes on suddenly
(e.g., after trauma or surgery) and may be accompanied by anxiety or emotional distress. The cause of acute pain can usually be diagnosed and treated, and the pain is self-limiting—that is, it is confined to a given period of time and severity. In some rare instances, it can become chronic. Chronic pain is widely believed to represent disease itself. It can be made much worse by environmental and psychological factors.
Chronic pain persists over a longer period of time than acute pain and is resistant to most medical treatments. It can—and often does— cause severe problems for patients. A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause. HOW is pain diagnosed
There is no way to tell how much pain a person has. No test can measure the intensity of pain, no imaging device can show pain, and no instrument can locate pain precisely. Sometimes, as in the case of headaches, physicians find that the best aid to diagnosis is the patient’s own description of the type, duration, and location of pain. Defining pain as sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, burning or aching may give the best clues to the cause of pain. These descriptions are part of what is called the pain history, taken by the physician during the preliminary examination of a patient with pain. In addition to a patient’s report of his or her pain, certain tests can give some insight into the cause of pain. Electrodiagnostic procedures can help physicians tell precisely which muscles or nerves are affected by weakness or pain. Imaging
(e.g., x-ray, MRI) and neurological examination can provide valuable information as well.
Patient Education Handout
A service for patients
WHAT are the treatment options
The goal of pain management is to improve function, enabling individuals to work, attend school, or participate in other day-to-day activities. Patients and their physicians have a number of options for the treatment of pain; some are more effective than others. Sometimes, relaxation and the use of imagery as a distraction provide relief.
These methods can be powerful and effective, according to those who advocate their use. Whatever the treatment regimen, it is important to remember that pain is treatable. The following treatments are among the most common.
Acupuncture dates back 2,500 years and involves the application of needles to precise points on the body. It is part of a general category of healing called traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture remains controversial but is quite popular and may one day prove to be useful for a variety of conditions.
Analgesics are a class of drugs that includes most painkillers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. The word analgesic is derived from ancient Greek and means to reduce or stop pain. Nonprescription or