The Undertreated Pain Patient

Have a toothache

There are at least 116 million Americans suffering significant amounts of pain that last sixty days or more (note: some studies have found this number to be grossly low). Chronic pain affects people of all ages, races, and genders. A significant part of the prevalence of chronic pain is that it has so many potential causes, from injuries to autoimmune disorders to cancers. With as widespread as this problem is, it may be shocking to hear how frequently chronic pain is undertreated.

Pain is difficult to describe to another person. You, as the pain patient, know when you hurt and you know when you hurt even worse than usual. However, when your doctor starts bombarding you with questions, it may be easy to get confused. You may not think of your pain in terms of whether it is burning or stabbing; it just hurts. The 1-10 Pain Scale is an often relied upon tool, but for a patient dealing with chronic pain, the amount of pain one feels on a day-to-day basis may blur quickly. Further, doctors are busy. If you catch your doctor on a bay day or come across a doctor with poor bedside manner, any hesitation to succinctly answer a question may lead to being dismissed, whether doing so is the doctor’s intention or not.  In these situations, your doctor may not believe your pain is severe enough to warrant treatment and send you home with little more than instructions to take some aspirin. Other doctors, however, may hurry to prescribe opioid painkillers. If your doctor does not believe there is an underlying cause that warrants further investigation, he/she may just want to give patients a quick fix.

It is important for patients experiencing chronic pain to not allow themselves to be swept under the rug. Keep a log of pain symptoms, detailing times and during which activities pain flare-ups occur, what the pain feels like (burning/stabbing/shooting/etc.), how long it lasted, and if anything helped or made it worse. Make a list of issues you wish to discuss with your doctor. If your doctor is unreceptive to discussing your concerns or unwilling to try treatment methods with which you are comfortable, it may be crucial to your well-being to find a different healthcare provider who will respond to your needs.

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