Pain is an unpleasant feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli, such as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting alcohol on a cut, and bumping the “funny bone”. The International Association for the Study of Pain‘s widely used definition states: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”
Everyone feels pain at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, there is no machine to objectively assess pain. Physicians have to rely on what the patient says. Sensitivity to pain varies – acute pain may make a person only grit her teeth and wince whereas the same injury can produce “severe, unbearable pain” with weeping and wailing in others.
Pain forces a person to take notice of a body part they had probably taken for granted. This is particularly true of acute pain such as a toothache, sinusitis, appendicitis or urinary tract infection.
Our bodies are plentifully supplied with “nociceptors” in the skin, bones, muscles and internal organs. Noxious stimuli, (either injury or infection) activates them. They release electrical currents and biochemical agents. These travel along the nerves, up the spinal cord and eventually reach certain areas in the brain. The reaction occurs in a flash and the perception of pain is instantaneous
Pain motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging situations, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future. Most pain resolves promptly once the painful stimulus is removed and the body has healed, but sometimes pain persists despite removal of the stimulus and apparent healing of the body; and sometimes pain arises in the absence of any detectable stimulus, damage or disease.
Pain may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For instance, if your pain is due to arthritis, you may experience pain in more than one joint. Pain due to a compressed nerve in the lower back can even lead to loss of bladder control. Pain is often a major symptom of fibromyalgia, which is also characterized by fatigue and sleep problems.
Symptoms that might occur along with pain:
The range of symptoms that may occur with pain include:
*Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, headache, cough)
*Inability to concentrate
*Loss of appetite
*Unexpected weight loss
There are certain Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition:
In some cases, pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms, with or without pain, including:
*Bleeding symptoms, such as bloody urine or bloody stools
*Change in consciousness or alertness; confusion
*Chest pain radiating to the arm, shoulder, neck or jaw
*Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
*High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
*Increased or decreased urine output
*Loss of bladder or bowel control
*Progressive weakness and numbness
*Redness, warmth or swelling
*Stiff neck and headache, with or without nausea or vomiting
*Weakness or lethargy
Hundreds of diseases, disorders and conditions can cause pain, such as inflammatory syndromes, malignancy, trauma, and infection. In some cases, pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack or cancer.
The experience of pain is invariably tied to emotional, psychological, and cognitive factors.
Pain can be due to a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that range from a mild injury to a debilitating disease. Pain can be categorized as acute, chronic, referred, cancer, neuropathic, and visceral.
Acute pain is experienced rapidly in response to disease or injury. Acute pain serves to alert the body that something is wrong and that action should be taken, such as pulling your arm away from a flame. Acute pain often resolves within a short time once the underlying condition is treated.
Chronic pain is defined as lasting more than three months. Chronic pain often begins as acute pain that lingers beyond the natural course of healing or after steps have been taken to address the cause of pain.
Referred pain is pain that originates in one part of the body but is felt in another part of the body.
Cancer pain is due to malignancy.
Neuropathic pain is caused by damage to the nervous system and is often perceived as tingling, burning, and pins-and-needles sensations called paresthesias.
Visceral pain is caused by a problem with the internal organs, such as the liver, gallbladder, kidney, heart or lungs.
Recent studies have found that some people with chronic pain may have low levels of endorphins in their spinal fluid. Endorphins are neurochemicals, similar to opiate drugs (like morphine), that are produced in the brain and released into the body in response to pain. Endorphins act as natural pain killers. Chronic pain most often affects older adults, but it can occur at any age. Chronic pain can persist for several months to years.
Complications associated with pain depend on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, pain resulting from a degenerative condition such as multiple sclerosis can lead to inactivity and its associated complications. Fortunately, pain can often be alleviated or minimized by physical therapy, basic self-help measures, and following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.
However, in some cases the degree and duration of your pain may become overwhelming and affect your everyday living. Research into the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain is ongoing, so contact your health care professional for the latest information.
Over time, pain can lead to complications including:
*Absenteeism from work or school
*Dependence on prescription pain medication
*Pain that does not respond to treatment (intractable pain)
*Permanent nerve damage (due to a pinched nerve) including paralysis
*Physiological and psychological response to chronic pain
*Poor quality of life
A person’s self-report is the most reliable measure of pain, with health care professionals tending to underestimate severity.A definition of pain widely employed in nursing, emphasizing its subjective nature and the importance of believing patient reports, was introduced by Margo McCaffery in 1968: “Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he says it does”. To assess intensity, the patient may be asked to locate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain at all, and 10 the worst pain they have ever felt. Quality can be established by having the patient complete the McGill Pain Questionnaire indicating which words best describe their pain.
As an aid to diagnosis:
Pain is a symptom of many medical conditions. Knowing the time of onset, location, intensity, pattern of occurrence (continuous, intermittent, etc.), exacerbating and relieving factors, and quality (burning, sharp, etc.) of the pain will help the examining physician to accurately diagnose the problem. For example, chest pain described as extreme heaviness may indicate myocardial infarction, while chest pain described as tearing may indicate aortic dissection.
Physiological measurement of pain:
fMRI brain scanning has been used to measure pain, giving good correlations with self-reported pain.
Hedonic adaptation means that actual long-term suffering due to physical illness is often much lower than expected.
Legal awards for pain and suffering:
One area where assessments of pain are effectively required to be made is in legal awards for pain and suffering. In the Western world these are typically discretionary awards made by juries and are regarded as difficult to predict, variable and subjective, for instance in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Inadequate treatment of pain is widespread throughout surgical wards, intensive care units, accident and emergency departments, in general practice, in the management of all forms of chronic pain including cancer pain, and in end of life care. This neglect is extended to all ages, from neonates to the frail elderly. African and Hispanic Americans are more likely than others to suffer needlessly in the hands of a physician; and women’s pain is more likely to be undertreated than men’s.
The International Association for the Study of Pain advocates that the relief of pain should be recognized as a human right, that chronic pain should be considered a disease in its own right, and that pain medicine should have the full status of a specialty. It is a specialty only in China and Australia at this time. Elsewhere, pain medicine is a subspecialty under disciplines such as anesthesiology, physiatry, neurology, palliative medicine and psychiatry. In 2011, Human Rights Watch alerted that tens of millions of people worldwide are still denied access to inexpensive medications for severe pain.
A number of medications can be used to treat acute pain. Many of these are available OTC (over the counter). Commonly used medication is paracetemol (10 mg /kg/dose in children 500 mg per dose in adults). It can be repeated every four hours. Paracetemol helps with fever as well, so if the aches and pains are due to seasonal flu, there is rapid improvement. It also blocks the areas of the brain that recognise pain. NSAIDs (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Brufen) and nalidixic acid relieve pain but do not have much effect on fever. They act by blocking prostaglandin, one of the chemicals responsible for feeling pain. Topical anti-inflammatory medications, particularly those containing capsaicin are very effective. They should be applied lightly over the painful area followed by an ice pack.
More often chronic pain is due to the various types of arthritis (rheumatoid, osteoarthritis), autoimmune diseases, gout and mechanical problems like a disc prolapse. It needs to be diagnosed correctly so that appropriate treatment can be started. The medications taken may be steroids, opiods or the coxib group of drugs.
Acute pain is usually managed with medications such as analgesics and anesthetics. Caffeine when added to pain medications provides some additional benefit. Management of chronic pain, however, is much more difficult and may require the coordinated efforts of a pain management team, which typically includes medical practitioners, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.
Sugar taken orally reduces the total crying time but not the duration of the first cry in newborns undergoing a painful procedure (a single lancing of the heel). It does not moderate the effect of pain on heart rate and a recent single study found that sugar did not significantly affect pain-related electrical activity in the brains of newborns one second after the heel lance procedure. Sweet oral liquid moderately reduces the incidence and duration of crying caused by immunization injection in children between one and twelve months of age.
The brain has to be retrained in its perception and response to pain. This can be done with a combination of physiotherapy and aerobic exercise. Judiciously used, these interventions help to reduce long-term dependence on pain medication.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.