Special to The Sun
September is Pain Awareness Month, a time to recognize an issue that affects more people than cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 100 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain — a staggering number compared to the 12 million Americans living with cancer.
Without visible symptoms, pain can only be described by the person experiencing it and is related to a range of injuries and illnesses. In some cases, pain becomes the disease itself. In addition to causing discomfort, unmanaged pain can affect all aspects of a person’s life, from disrupting sleeping and eating patterns to causing feelings of anger, sadness and hopelessness. Pain can affect workplace productivity and as a result, lead to unemployment and trouble maintaining health insurance. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, pain yields higher healthcare costs due to longer and more frequent hospital stays. A report from Johns Hopkins University shows the annual cost of chronic pain is as high as $635 billion a year in the United States.
Pain management is a special concern for patients with life-limiting illnesses, such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart disease. According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, about three quarters of patients with advanced disease experience some degree of pain.
Pain is not necessarily the most common symptom associated with serious illnesses, but is arguably the most feared. Learning healthy ways of coping with stress through moderate exercise, eating well and getting plenty of sleep are all proven to promote relaxation and reduce tension. Consider joining a local support group to connect with other people who understand the challenges of living with pain, or track your symptoms in a journal to share with your physician.
There are many myths around the treatment of pain, such as: pain medications always cause heavy sedation, always lead to addiction and dosages must always be increased for pain to be relieved. Perhaps the biggest myth is that in order for pain to be effectively treated, care must be received in a hospital setting.
Most medical treatments required to make a terminally-ill patient comfortable can be provided at home, reducing the need for frequent hospital visits as the needs in a patient’s condition change. Hospice and palliative care providers are specially trained to address complex pain, from administering medication and providing psychological and spiritual support to introducing alternative therapies such as massage and meditation.
Pain does not have to be accepted as a normal part of the aging process or living with an illness. In all cases, it is important to develop a strong network of loved ones and healthcare professionals who can support you on your journey of managing your symptoms and enjoying a higher quality of life.
RANDY WHEELER, an Edmond resident, is the executive director of Crossroads Hospice in Oklahoma City.