Chronic pain syndrome is one of the most challenging issues in modern medicine. It’s estimated that costs related to chronic pain run into the range of 300 billion dollars every year (more than cancer or diabetes), straining the resources of the health care system to cope.
And for people who live with chronic pain, the condition is an absolute nightmare. Trapped in a constant cycle of pain and misery, people with chronic pain find that their basic quality of life is severely limited by their condition.
But the most difficult aspect of all when it comes to this condition is that doctors understand very little about what the condition is or how to treat it.
What Is Chronic Pain Syndrome?
Chronic pain syndrome is not really one disease, but rather a wide array of different conditions or diseases that result in severe and long-lasting pain. Conditions that fall under the wider umbrella of this syndrome are things like osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. They’re conditions that leave the patient with significant pain that lasts for months or years.
It’s estimated that up to 35% of Americans struggle with at least some symptoms of the syndrome and that many of them are at least partially disabled by their pain. As a result, the condition leads to much larger burdens on the economy from people who are unable to work. It’s estimated that in addition to the costs for the health system, another 300 billion dollars is lost due to the lost productivity of people with chronic pain.
And because it is so hard to define, it’s tough to say for certain which conditions fall under its umbrella, or if your pain could be defined as chronic pain syndrome. But for many people, chronic pain is a very real and constant issue in their lives.
What Are The Symptoms?
The symptoms vary widely because of the fact that so many different conditions are defined within the larger category of chronic pain syndrome. You can have it due to crippling arthritis in your hands, your chronic fibromyalgia, or even due to a pinched nerve in your back.
The only consistent symptom is right there in the name: chronic pain.
Doctors typically look to persistent and severe pain when trying to diagnose it. But there is no consensus on what the criteria for a diagnosis are. Some doctors maintain that 6 months of chronic and untreatable pain is enough to qualify a patient. Others maintain that a mere 3 months is enough to qualify.
Either way, the label is really just a way to describe the fact that patients suffer from constant pain. The other symptoms vary widely based on which condition produces the pain.
How Is It Treated?
Chronic pain syndrome is obviously not treated as though it itself were a disease. That’s because it is less a disease than a way to classify the results of many other different forms of the disease. So treatment focuses on the underlying condition that causes the pain.
This doesn’t mean that it is any less difficult to treat, as many, if not most, of the conditions that lead to the syndrome, are very difficult to treat by themselves. Things like fibromyalgia are typically treated with antidepressants, whereas for other conditions, such as an issue with the spine, surgery may be necessary.
But by and large, the conditions that cause it are often treated with opiate painkillers. And this fact has had its own cost.
The widespread use of opiates to treat chronic pain has contributed to the epidemic of opiate addiction in the united states. Patients often become dependent on opiate drugs and thus become more likely to abuse them. The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 patients who take opioid pain relievers struggle with addiction.
This fact contributes to more intense dependency and thus when patients are no longer able to get the opiates from a doctor, they turn to street drugs such as heroin. Or they end up taking drugs like fentanyl, which are much more potent than what they might be used to.
And as a result, deaths from opioid abuse have risen exponentially in the United States over the past few years. That means that thousands of people are dying as a direct result of their struggle with chronic pain syndrome. That makes it a very serious issue and it’s time that we started treating it that way and devoting the resources to finding better ways to treat it. Lives depend on it.