During my years working as a health writer, I’ve interviewed a wide variety of frustrated – and often depressed – chronic pain sufferers who, after years of searching, were at a complete loss as to where to find help. The causes of the pain were many and varied – from ongoing back problems to autoimmune disorders to accident injuries – but the frustrations were similar.
You could see the pain etched into these patients’ faces, reflected in their movements. Often, they felt misunderstood or not believed or condemned for not “sucking it up” and complaining too much. Living with ongoing pain had become a way of life.
The number of these pain sufferers, who often go ontreated and suffer needlessly, has reached epidemic proportions in the the United States, and now the dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine is calling for a public health campaign to fight the problem. In a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece published today, Philip Pizzo, MD, and co-author Noreen Clark, PhD, write:
We recommend expanding and redesigning education programs to transform the understanding of pain, improving education for clinicians, and increasing the number of health professionals with advanced expertise in pain care.
The co-authors describe both the “astounding” magnitude of pain – up to 116 million Americans suffer – and the need to better educate health care practitioners and the public as a whole about the problem:
Sadly, many physicians are viewed as poor listeners by people living with chronic pain. Some physicians over-prescribe medications including opioids, while others refuse to prescribe them at all for fear of violating local or state regulations… Often, an initially supportive community becomes intolerant or inattentive as the pain persists, which leads many people with chronic pain to give up, resulting in depression.
Last June, an Institute of Medicine report concluded that the effective treatment of pain demands a cultural transformation on the part of patients, physicians and researchers; Pizzo chaired the committee that issued that report.
Previously: No pain, no gain. Not!, Relieving Pain in America: A new report from the Institute of Medicine, Elliot Krane discusses the mystery of chronic pain, Researching ways to “heal the hurt”, Stanford’s Sean Mackey discusses recent advances in pain research and treatment and Oh what a pain
Photo by SashaW