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Pain 101

Summary

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Pain does not have to be a part of your life. It is a medical condition that can and should be treated. Pain can even be harmful. How far to go in treating pain is up to you.

It is a myth to think that good patients don't "complain" and tell doctors about pain. In fact, pain is information doctors need to know to treat you properly. 

There are a series of roadblocks that prevent adequate pain treatment. Understanding what the roadblocks are can help overcome them as you work with your doctor or other health care professional to relieve pain. For example:

  • Doctors who treat a serious disease tend to focus on cures for the disease instead of minimizing pain. It is safer to assume that you will have to bring up the subject.
  • Expect that because of limited time ith a doctor, there may not be a lot of time to discuss issues that do not relate specifically to treatment and cure.
  • It is a myth to think that effective pain relief  from drugs causes addiction. Studies show that even the most powerful drugs used to eliminate or reduce pain are not addictive when used for pain. 
  • Pain is frequently referred to as the fifth vital sign. Unlike the other signs such as temperature, pain cannot be measured objectively. Instead, doctors have to rely on you to describe your pain. This involves: 
    • The type of pain
    • The severity (how much it hurts)
    • When it hurts and for how long
    • What causes the pain if you can pinpoint a cause or causes

If you prefer to be educated about how to reduce and possibly eliminate pain, take a few minutes to consider the suggested steps described below for pain reduction. (For instance, pain medication prescribed by your doctor is only one of the steps you can take to help relieve pain.) Then take the steps that work for you. 

NOTES: 

  • Sometimes pain cannot be eliminated entirely. In that case, learning how to cope with pain can be empowering.
  • If you regularly use pain relievers and get headaches more than 15 days a month, the cause may be taking too many pain relievers. If this could be you, speak with your doctor before reducing or eliminating your pain medications.
  • It is worth keeping in mind that the experience of pain can be amplified by the meaning you give to pain. For example, if you think a pain means that your disease may be progressing. You can work on changing the meaning. 
  • Do not abuse pain medication by taking more than prescribed. Excess medication can lead to addiction. Some people report that addiction is worse than the disease itself.
  • Survivorship A to Z can help you keep track of your pain with our Symptoms Diary (see "To Learn More"). When you're ready to see a doctor, you can push a button and turn the Diary into an easy-to-read graph.
  • A fairly new medical specialty known as Palliative Care helps maximize life while living with a life changing condition. Part of the care is treatment for pain. To learn more, see Palliative Care.

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