September is Pain Awareness Month: Understanding Chronic Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • September is designated as Pain Awareness Month. Although most people don’t realize it, chronic pain has become a national health crisis. The facts and figures are staggering. Watch for more special SharePosts and articles dealing with important chronic pain issues throughout this month.

    Let’s take advantage of this month to educate everyone we can on the issues surrounding chronic pain and how it affects our lives. To help you make your point, here are some significant chronic pain facts: (Note: Statistics cited are for the U.S.)

    Incidence and Cost

    • Approximately 50 – 75 million Americans suffer with persistent chronic pain. Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
    • The National Institutes of Health reports that the cost of chronic pain in the U.S., including medical expenses, lost income and lost productivity, is estimated to be more than $500 billion a year.
    • Due to the severity of their chronic pain, 42 percent of sufferers are unable to work and 63 percent are unable to engage in routine activities of daily living.

    Treatment of Chronic Pain

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    • Most chronic pain is either untreated or under-treated.
    • The majority of patients with severe chronic pain do not have it under control.
    • Elders and pediatric patients are among those most under-treated for their pain.
    • There is a significant gender bias in pain assessment and treatment. Women seek help for pain more frequently than men but are less likely to receive treatment. Physicians often view women’s statements as emotional rather than objective.
    • Chronic pain patients report having difficulty finding doctors who will treat their pain. Nearly a quarter of them say they have seen more than three doctors seeking help. The problems they encountered were: 1. Doctors who are unwilling to treat pain aggressively; 2. Doctors who lack knowledge about treating pain; 3. Doctors who do not take their pain seriously.

    Consequences of Unrelieved Pain

    • Some of the physical consequences of untreated or under-treated chronic pain include: increased stress, metabolic rate, blood clotting and water retention; delayed healing; hormonal imbalances; impaired immune system and gastrointestinal functioning; decreased mobility; appetite and sleep problems; and needless suffering.
    • Psychological consequences of unrelieved pain include: low self-esteem, powerlessness, hopelessness and depression.
    • Under-treatment of severe chronic pain can lead to suicide. Half of chronic pain patients receiving inadequate pain care reported they had considered suicide to escape the unrelenting agony.

    Specific Chronic Pain Conditions

    Sources: The American Pain Foundation and the Chronic Syndrome Support Association

Published On: September 06, 2007