When someone has an injury, undergoes surgery or has some type of health issue, they may experience pain. However, after their body heals, the pain goes away. This type of pain is called acute pain.
People can also have pain that goes on for several months or longer. When this happens, it is called chronic pain. An estimated 25 million people in the U.S. experience chronic pain, according to a National Health Survey by the U.S. Department of health and Human Services.
Sometimes chronic pain has a known cause—for instance, the person has a disease or condition like arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or fibromyalgia. Other times, even if a health condition improves, the pain can remain for no known reason.
Regardless of why a person may be in pain, chronic pain not only is physically challenging, but can be extremely difficult to cope with emotionally as well. For instance, a Harvard Health report says more than 60% of people with reported chronic pain also had depression, and from that group, the majority described the level of their depression as being severe.
When people with chronic pain develop emotional issues that go beyond the normal ups and downs of life, it is called chronic pain syndrome (CPS). Some of the symptoms include depression, anxiety, fear and low self-esteem. About 25% of people with chronic pain develop chronic pain syndrome.
Every person experiences chronic pain differently. If you are noticing any of the physical symptoms listed here and they are not going away, or are unexplained, make an appointment to see a medical professional to find out what treatments might be available to you:
• Aching Muscles
• Dull Pain
• Pain All Over
• Pain Comes and Goes
• Pain in One Area Only
• Pain is Constant
• Sharp Pain
• Sleep Issues
If you are experiencing any of the physical symptoms of chronic pain, as well as any of the emotional symptoms listed below, make an appointment to see your doctor or a mental health professional. If you have chronic pain syndrome, your provider can discuss types of treatments that might be best for you.
Common chronic pain syndrome symptoms include:
• Feelings of Low Self Worth
Chronic pain syndrome can be managed using psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medications and physical-based approaches like exercise and physical therapy.
Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be helpful as well. However, people with chronic pain syndrome should work closely with their doctor and a mental health professional to get comprehensive care, tailored to their individual needs.
A mental health professional can help a patient get prescription medications that can help manage the emotional effects of chronic pain, such as anxiety or depression.
Examples of antidepressants a healthcare provider may recommend include:
• Amitriptyline (Elavil)
• Doxepin (Silenor)
• Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
• Fluoxetine (Prozac)
• Imipramine (Tofranil)
• Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
• Paroxetine (Paxil)
• Sertraline (Zoloft)
Types of anticonvulsant medications a provider may recommend that are sometimes used to treat chronic pain include:
• Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
• Gabapentin (Neurontin)
• Phenytoin (Dilantin)
• Pregabalin (Lyrica)
• Topiramate (Topamax)
Important Note: Opioids are a class of drugs that are sometimes used to treat chronic pain. However, the risk of addiction is especially high when they are used to manage it over a long period of time, and currently there is an opioid crisis in the U.S. Examples of prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine and morphine.
Talk to your healthcare provider about any medications you may be prescribed so you understand the benefits and possible risks.
Not everyone reacts to medications in the same way, and finding a safe and effective medication to treat chronic pain may take some trial and error. In fact, up to half of all patients do not respond as desired (and some even experience adverse reactions) to the first psychiatric medication they’re prescribed. This is due in part to their individual genetic makeup (their DNA).
In recent years, however, scientists have identified innovative ways to use genetic testing to help personalize treatment in order to better meet the needs of individual patients—and help get them medications that are more likely to be well tolerated and effective. This science is now available to health care professionals to help them treat patients who have chronic pain.
The information revealed by a patient’s DNA can also help a doctor better understand if a patient might experience negative side effects or adverse drug reactions, and avoid those options.
This remarkable science is already helping people suffering from chronic pain, helping them gain peace of mind and better control of the lives, and be more informed than ever before.
Nahin RL. Estimates of pain prevalence and severity in adults: United States, 2012. Journal of Pain. 2015;16(8):769-780, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26028573
Havard Health Publishing, "Depression and Pain", Updated: March 21, 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/depression-and-pain
With good information, you can better understand how these conditions may affect you, your loved one or your patient. The better informed you are, the better you can advocate. Learn more by clicking the topics below: