Did you know that over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain daily? Did you know that $600 billion is spent on treatment and lost productivity per year because of chronic pain? That adds up to more than the cost of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease treatment combined!
The statistics mentioned are from http://www.painmatters.com, a website that is for patients with chronic pain and their healthcare providers and were cross-referenced online with webMD and time.com. At this website, you can view the Discovery Channel’s video: Pain Matters, which gives the testimonies of several chronic pain patients. Although this video was produced several years ago in an attempt to bring awareness to the subject of chronic pain, it is still relevant today.
The psychological fall out of experiencing chronic pain is a complex problem in that chronic pain sufferers are twice as likely to made plans for suicide as an attempt to regain “control” over their situations and are more likely to carry out their suicide plan vs. a non-chronic pain person. The downward spiral of chronic pain that leads to loss of profession which is tied to loss of identity magnifies the fact that chronic pain patients are three times more likely than a well person to experience deep depression.
Statistics also show that 4 out of 5 chronic patient patients turn to family members for help. 80% of these persons turning to others for help feel like a burden to their loved ones. Caregiver burnout is high among those caring for loved ones with chronic pain. Invisibleillnessweek.com reports a 75% increase in divorce rates when one partner has chronic illness.!
People with chronic pain need validation. Statistics show that the number one complaint among chronic pain patients was that they did not feel validated by their families, friends, and even their healthcare professionals. Why is it so hard for people to understand pain? Pain is subjective, meaning it can’t be measured so much by outward appearance. Healthcare professionals must listen to what the patient says about the pain which is why a pain scale from 0-10 is often used with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worse imaginal pain possible. However, the pain scale isn’t reliable because patients who feel that they are not validated will often understate their pain to hide it or overstate their pain rating to feel validated. This is why healthcare professionals often ask about sleep cycles, ability to perform certain activities of daily living, and coping methods to try to get a clearer picture of what the pain is like and if their treatment plan is working. Because of these types of communication barriers about pain, 4 in 10 chronic pain sufferers state that their doctors do not customize their pain regimen.
In addition, there is a bias toward women with chronic pain. Studies show that women are more likely to be undertreated for chronic pain than white males by their healthcare professionals. Many women are dismissed as being hormonal, which is quite insulting. A special non-profit organization for women with chronic pain was started by one of the women in the documentary: Pain Matters. This lady suffered with an undiagnosed condition for 14 years! You can learn more about her organization for women with chronic pain at: http://www.forgrace.org. There are many resources at her website, including an online petition asking for equality in pain management for women.
Another area that is a burden of chronic pain are the new laws that effect chronic pain patients in regard to opioid pain management. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 7 million Americans abuse prescription pain medications. Because of this drug abuse, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made new rules that doctors must follow in order keep their license to prescribe drugs. As of August 2014, the crackdown on prescription narcotics included hydrocodone, listing it as a Schedule II narcotic. This is a frequently prescribed medication for chronic pain sufferers. This new regulation requires physicians to write prescriptions for these drugs for no more than 30 days at a time, the prescription must be written (no call in to pharmacy, faxed, or sent electronically), and the physician must evaluate the patient for ongoing treatment. The major drawback to these new regulations is that chronic pain sufferers are less likely to get the medication needed as fewer and fewer primary care physicians are wiling to prescribe narcotics and instead are referring their patients to pain management specialists.
Sharing the burden of chronic pain with other chronic pain sufferers is perhaps one of the more proactive things that the chronic pain patient can do. Not only does this provide validation from others in a similar circumstance it also allows the sufferer to be a support to others. This relationship helps lessen the burden on care-givers, lessens the incidence of aloneness that leads to deep depression and ideation of suicide, helps communication with healthcare providers, and can serve as a distraction from pain. Organizations like the American Chronic Pain Association can help with resources such as connecting you a local chronic pain group. You can sign up for their free newsletter and explore their many resources such as ways to communicate with your healthcare provider, learn more about your disease, how to track pain, and other educational materials at their website, http://www.americanchronicpainassociation.org. There are also many online groups in this age of social media, but be sure to check out these groups for a good fit, security, and well roundedness.
The greatest burden of chronic pain is on the chronic pain sufferer. If you suffer from chronic pain (pain lasting more than 3 months) then seek help from your primary care physician. Be ready to speak honestly about your pain and how it has had an impact on your life. Hoping it will go away, ignoring the pain, or being afraid to express how bad it really is only hurts the chronic pain patient more as they are socioeconomically impacted by unrelieved pain. If you know someone who has chronic pain, please reach out to them. Share the video: Pain Matters. Most of all, let them know you care.