Everyone has suffered pain at some point in their lives, whether it’s an excruciating headache, backache or toothache. Whatever the cause, pain can take the joy out of everyday life and when it’s alleviated, there’s usually a huge sense of relief.
However, try to imagine if that pain were a permanent feature, something that you were forced to deal with from the moment you opened your eyes in the morning until the time you went to bed and often throughout the night too, disrupting your sleep.
Chronic pain disorder is a severely debilitating condition and one which has devastating consequences on the quality of life, regardless of the cause. The unremitting nature of chronic pain syndrome means that sufferers are forced to rely on a cocktail of drugs and medications, often with limited success.
Here’s a closer look at chronic pain disorder and what it really means.
Chronic pain syndrome – a definition
Although an unpleasant sensation, pain is an essential part of the body’s protection mechanisms, alerting us to the presence of a problem. Once identified, the trigger can be dealt with, enabling the pain to subside.
Chronic pain disorder is a very different beast, serving no useful purpose and persisting within the body long after the trigger – if there was one – has been eradicated.
There is no universal definition of what qualifies to be identified as chronic pain and it’s this lack of a consensus which can mean patients receive varying degrees of treatment from their doctors.
Generally speaking chronic pain is distinguished as pain which has persisted beyond 12 weeks and has gone beyond what a regular healing period could generally be expected to last.
Chronic pain may be related to an ongoing condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or it may be pain that is still present long after recovery should have taken place, such as post-surgery, and there may be no obvious reason for the persisting symptoms. In some cases chronic pain arises without any identifiable trigger or cause, arising out of the blue.
Current medical opinion suggests that unexplained chronic pain is caused due to a malfunction in the nervous system, with pain signals being sent to the brain even though there is no damage to the tissues in the body.
The degree of pain suffered can vary very significantly with some patients forced to endure excruciating levels of pain while others have continuous low grade symptoms. The pain can be utterly incapacitating or it may be episodic but the one common feature is that it doesn’t remit or relent, the pattern is continuous.
How chronic pain disorder is treated
Once again there’s a wide variation in how chronic pain in treated, partly because it can arise from a number of different causes.
Musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and back pain are notorious for causing ongoing pain which is very difficult to treat and alleviate and very often it’s simply a case of trying to manage the symptoms rather than offering an effective cure.
But although a cure may not be possible, the cases in which there is an easily identifiable cause can be less problematic when the diagnosis is one by exclusion.
Conditions such as Fibromyalgia and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome are often met with skepticism and sufferers can face accusations of malingering. Even once diagnosed, the protocols for treating the conditions aren’t as well established as other diseases and less is known about the likely progression or evolution.
For any kind of chronic pain, the overall treatment can depend heavily on the medical team, with far more disparity in the regimes than in other areas of medicine.
Problems and complications
Chronic pain is a particularly subjective problem, with the extent of the distress and suffering being caused varying widely from person to person.
For those at the more severe end, it can be difficult to get the degree of suffering taken seriously, often being labelled with being overly-sensitive, or even worse, exaggerating their symptoms.
It’s also important to understand that pain rarely occurs in isolation. Other symptoms can include sleep difficulties, fatigue, lethargy, muscular aches, reduced stamina and mood changes such as depression and anxiety.
When faced with the emotional toll of dealing with chronic pain it’s perhaps not surprising that many people suffer related psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression. These conditions by themselves can be extremely disabling but when coupled with pain, they can be extremely incapacitating, affecting not just the ability to work but also personal relationships and family life.
The information contained on this page is only intended to be a guide and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you are suffering from any of these conditions.
Click here to understand more about what chronic pain is.