Taking Pain Seriously

Fears about addiction and overregulation have long prevented doctors from taking pain as seriously as they take curing disease. In addition, fear of being disciplined by state medical boards has discouraged many physicians from providing adequate pain relief.

Doctors have long feared legal penalties-- including investigation and discipline by their state medical board, malpractice, or negligence actions -- when they consider precribing controlled substances for pain management.

New treatments, and new attitudes are finally giving chronic sufferers hope of living pain free lives. In fact, in Oregon, one doctor was disciplined by the state for underprescribing pain medication for cancer patients. And patient advocate groups are beginning to file a number of lawsuits based on this precedent setting case. The Facts on Addiction

While pain patients may become physically dependent on pain killers, they don't engage in compulsive behavior-- the behavior and attitude which is the hallmark of addiction. With a true addict, quality of life goes down as they use drugs, but, with pain patients, it improves.

Physical dependence and addiction are not the same thing. In fact, many drugs that cause physical dependence are not addictive -- like high blood pressure medication. If you take away the medication suddenly, there are life threatening withdrawal symptoms, but not addiction. Many people resist using medications that could help them because they equate the two. Pain Management: Treating the Whole Person

To date, pain management has not rated high on anyone's priority list - including medical schools. It takes time to understand it, and most insurance companies are set up to reimburse technology, not the time it takes for a doctor to spend to truly understand each individual's pain.

Pain is a sensory experience -- but it can be magnified by depression, panic attacks, stress, etc. You can't really treat a patient for pain without considering both the mind and the body.

While people with acute and chronic pain may or may not have life threatening illnesses -- the personal devastation, financial problems and chronic debilitation caused by pain lead to serious problems. The pain specialist is trained to treat the whole person by weaving multiple treatments together -- including nerve block injections, medications, physical therapy, and psychological treatments, among others -- to help patients cope with pain and the complications it generates.

Pain is moving up the health care priority list because of recent legislative support for patients' pain related rights. In California, legislation was recently passed making pain the fifth vital sign, after pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and respiratory rate -- and requiring that doctors get pain management education before they can get their licenses renewed. It also mandates more education in the states medical schools. Similar innovations are being spurred through the nation. Call out Box "Take a Picture of My Brain" Advances in Imaging Technology Help Doctors Understand the Mind/Body Connection Highly advanced computerized imaging techniques provide views of the brain never seen or understood before. Doctors can now see how specific areas of the brain react to acute and chronic pain, and, can even see the area of our brain which anticipates pain, before it physically occurs. These new techniques will ultimately help doctors better understand the mind/body sconnection, making for better individualized care and treatment.


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