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Chronic Pain (cont.)

Symptoms

The symptoms of chronic pain include:

  • Pain that does not go away as expected after an illness or injury.
  • Pain that may be described as shooting, burning, aching, or electrical.
  • Discomfort, soreness, tightness, or stiffness.

Pain can lead to other problems, such as:

  • Fatigue, which can cause impatience and a loss of motivation.
  • Sleeplessness, often because the pain keeps you awake during the night.
  • Withdrawal from activity and an increased need to rest.
  • A weakened immune system, leading to frequent infections or illness.
  • Depression, which is common and can make your pain worse.
  • Other mood changes, such as hopelessness, fear, irritability, anxiety, and stress.
  • Disability, which may include not being able to go to work or school or perform other daily activities.

What Happens

In some cases, chronic pain develops after an injury or illness. The pain continues even after you have recovered from the injury or illness. For example, many people who have had a limb amputated report feeling chronic pain in the missing limb (phantom limb pain). Chronic pain can also develop even though you have not had an injury or illness. But the result is often the same—a cycle of sleeplessness, inactivity, irritability, depression, and more pain.

Chronic pain may be mild to severe. You may have pain that comes back from time to time over several weeks, months, or years. Occasional, mild to moderate pain can usually be managed at home. Exercise, good nutrition, regular massages, and pain-relieving drugs—such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, ibuprofen or aspirin—may be enough to manage your symptoms.

On the other hand, you may have constant chronic pain that is severe. You may be unable to work, and physical activity may be too painful or exhausting. Sleeping at night may be difficult, resulting in fatigue and irritability. Your outlook on life may change and strain your relationships with family and friends. Prolonged pain may restrict your daily activities and eventually lead to disability. Without specialized treatment, chronic pain syndrome can become disabling.

After treatment begins, many things can interfere with your recovery, such as dependency on drugs or alcohol, overwhelming stress, lack of motivation, depression or other mental health problems, or ongoing litigation because of a workers' compensation claim. If your pain is disabling, you may want to seek an evaluation at a pain management clinic, where a team of doctors work together to treat your pain.

The lives of your family members, friends, or caregivers can also be affected. The people you count on to help you may also need some support. Family therapy or involvement in a caregiver support program may help.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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