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Chronic Pain


Topic Overview

Is this topic for you?

This topic is for people with chronic pain caused by problems other than cancer. If you are looking for information on pain caused by cancer, see the topic Cancer Pain.

What is chronic pain?

Pain that lasts for 3 months or longer is called chronic. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. It's normal for you to have pain when you are injured or ill. But pain that lasts for weeks, months, or years is not normal.

Chronic pain can occur anywhere in your body. It can range from being mild and annoying to being so bad that it gets in the way of your daily activities.

Anyone can get chronic pain. It's more common in older adults, but it's not a normal part of aging. Older adults are more likely to have long-term medical problems, such as diabetes or arthritis, which can lead to ongoing pain.

What causes chronic pain?

The cause of chronic pain is not always clear. It may occur because brain chemicals that usually stop pain after you get better from an illness or injury are not working right. Or damaged nerves can cause the pain. Chronic pain can also occur without a known cause.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of chronic pain include:

  • Mild to very bad pain that does not go away as expected.
  • Pain that is shooting, burning, aching, or electrical.
  • Soreness, tightness, or stiffness.

What other problems can chronic pain cause?

If you have pain for a long time, it can make you feel very tired and may lead to depression.

It can get in the way of your usual social and physical activities. You may have so much pain that you can't go to work or school.

The emotional upset may make your pain worse. And your body's defense system (immune system) may get weak, leading to lots of infections and illnesses.

How is chronic pain diagnosed?

Your doctor can find out if you have chronic pain by asking about your past illnesses and your overall health. He or she will also do a physical exam.

You may have tests to find out if a medical problem is causing the pain. Your doctor may check for problems with your nervous system and may order blood tests. He or she may also ask you questions to check your mood and mental health and to see how well you are able to think, reason, and remember.

In most cases, test results are normal. This can make it hard to know the exact cause of the pain. But this doesn't mean that your pain isn't real.

How is it treated?

You can use home treatment for mild pain or pain that you have now and then. Exercising and getting enough sleep may help reduce chronic pain.

Using over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen may also help. You may want to try complementary therapies such as massage and yoga.

Talk to your doctor if your pain does not go away or if it gets worse. You may need to try different treatments to find what works for you. Medicines you take by mouth, shots of numbing medicine, acupuncture, nerve stimulation, and surgery are used for some types of chronic pain.

It is important to make a clear treatment plan with your doctor. The best plan may include combining treatments.

Living with chronic pain can be hard. Counseling may help you cope. It can also help you deal with frustration, fear, anger, depression, and anxiety.

You may always have some pain. But in most cases, chronic pain can be managed so that you can get on with your life and do your daily activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about chronic pain:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with chronic pain:

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