Whether the result of injury, illness or a chronic condition, 70 million people in the U.S. experience pain annually. The individual pain sufferer may experience a diminished quality of life, lack of mobility and added stress.
For the country as a whole, pain has far-reaching cost implications. More than 140 million work days are estimated to be lost because of back pain. As a result of chronic pain and the loss in productivity it causes, approximately $60 to $100 billion is wasted each year.
To help fight this debilitating condition and combat its detrimental impact, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) offers practical ways for sufferers to take an active role in the treatment of pain. The ASA wants to ensure patients are informed about their treatment options and is offering a series of tips to empower the patient as he or she works with a physician to treat the pain.
Anesthesiologists are pain medicine specialists with extensive experience diagnosing and treating both acute and chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, back and neck pain, cancer pain, nerve pain, migraine headaches, shingles and pain caused by AIDS.
"Thanks to significant medical advances, illnesses such as cancer and HIV are increasingly becoming chronic conditions rather than terminal illnesses," said Doris K. Cope, M.D., professor and vice chair for pain medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Pain is an extremely complex condition, affecting all types of people both physically and psychologically. However, many people suffer needlessly because, in most cases, pain can be treated by an anesthesiologist specializing in pain medicine."
Patients experience various types of pain:
- Acute pain is experienced as a result of injury or surgery.
- Chronic pain occurs when a person experiences pain for three months or more. It affects nearly 130 million people in the U.S. and does not target a specific age, race or sex.
- Cancer pain is experienced by approximately one-third of adult cancer patients while undergoing treatment.
"Research shows that when a cancer patient's pain is treated effectively, survival rates improve," said Mark Lema, M.D., professor and chair of anesthesiology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "My work has involved identifying a patient's pain and providing the appropriate medical treatment to help ease that pain induced by the disease therapy and the disease itself."
Pain Treatment Options
Pain is treated in a variety of ways, depending on the individual patient's needs. Patients should seek the guidance of a pain medicine expert for appropriate treatments, which may include medication, injections, physical therapy, psychological support and acupuncture.
"Patients coping with pain have access to an impressive variety of therapies, ranging from traditional medicine to holistic approaches such as psychological therapy and acupuncture," said Dr. Cope. "When patients are ready to actively participate in their treatment, relief from pain becomes possible, and quality of life can significantly improve."
The ASA offers a number of steps patients can take with their physician to address pain.
1. Take the first step and see your doctor. Millions of people in the U.S. each year get relief from acute and chronic pain, but it does require you to take action by scheduling an appointment with a physician. You are going to need the help of an expert to treat the condition.
2. Be an active patient. Patients who are true partners with their physicians have more success than those patients who take a "hands-off," passive approach. You must educate yourself on your condition and communicate openly and honestly with your physician. You should always ask questions.
3. Make a sustained commitment. More often than not, overcoming pain is a multi-step process. While pain treatment varies for every patient, it usually includes more than just one strategy and approach. You must make a lasting commitment and follow the prescribed course in its entirety.
4. Recognize the important role your physical health plays in your successful treatment. It's easier for an otherwise healthy person to fight chronic pain than it is for an unhealthy person. Factors such as weight, lifestyle and diet all play a role in treatment outcomes. Work with your pain medicine expert to determine what is appropriate for you to do to ensure physical health.
5. Recognize the important role your psychological health plays in your treatment. Your mental well-being affects your physical well-being, and vice versa. Anxiety or depression can have adverse effects on the endocrine and immune functions, which can affect healing, disease resistance and convalescence time. When psychological distress is coupled with acute or chronic pain, a vicious cycle can develop where the pain causes more distress, which hampers treatment of the pain. It is vital that you be aware of your emotions and overall mental health and seek professional help, if necessary.
The mental health aspect of pain treatment is often underappreciated but is well-supported by medical data. In a recent paper, "Predictors of Postoperative Pain and Analgesic Consumption," published in the September 2009 edition of Anesthesiology, the authors reviewed 48 studies examining 23,037 patients. Anxiety, preoperative pain, age and surgery type were shown to be predictors of increased levels of acute or chronic pain after surgery.
6. Talk to others who have had the same condition. While communicating with your physicians is important, talking to someone who has walked in your shoes can also be helpful. Hearing the firsthand account of someone who has gone through the same experiences you're facing can help make an upcoming surgery less of a mystery. Reach out to support groups online or in your area.
More information about pain medicine is available at www.lifelinetomodernmedicine.com.