A: In its most benign form, it warns us that something isn’t quite right, that we should take medicine or see a doctor. At its worst, however, pain robs us of our productivity, our well-being and, for many of us suffering from extended illness, our very lives. Pain is a complex perception that differs enormously among individual patients, even those who appear to have identical injuries or illnesses.
In 1931, the French medical missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself.” Today, pain has become the universal disorder, a serious and costly public health issue and a challenge for family, friends and health care providers who must give support to the individual suffering from the physical as well as the emotional consequences of pain.
The two faces of pain: acute and chronic
What is pain? The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.
It is useful to distinguish between two basic types of pain — acute and chronic — and they differ greatly.
Acute pain, for the most part, results from disease, inflammation or injury to tissues. This type of pain generally comes on suddenly, for example, after trauma or surgery, and may be accompanied by anxiety or emotional distress. The cause of acute pain can usually be diagnosed and treated, and the pain is self-limiting; that is, it is confined to a given period of time and severity. In some rare instances, it can become chronic.
Chronic pain is widely believed to represent disease itself. It can be made much worse by environmental and psychological factors. Chronic pain persists over a longer period of time than acute pain and is resistant to most medical treatments. It can — and often does — cause severe problems for patients. A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia and inflammatory bowel disease. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.
The goal of pain management is to improve function, enabling individuals to work, attend school or participate in other day-to-day activities. Patients and their physicians have a number of options for the treatment of pain; some are more effective than others. Whatever the treatment regime, it is important to remember that pain is treatable.
Information provided by Winterset Care Center North, 411 E. Lane St., 462-1571 and Winterset Care Center South, 715 S. Second Ave. 462-4040.