About Pain

Pain is a major healthcare problem in Europe. Although acute pain may reasonably be considered a symptom of disease or injury, chronic and recurrent pain is a specific healthcare problem, a disease in its own right.

Acute pain, such as that following trauma or surgery, constitutes a signal to a conscious brain about the presence of noxious stimuli and/or ongoing tissue damage. This acute pain signal is useful and adaptive, warning the individual of danger and the need to escape or seek help. Acute pain is a direct outcome of the noxious event, and is reasonably classified as a symptom of underlying tissue damage or disease. However, in many patients pain persists long after its usefulness as an alarm signal has passed, and indeed, often long after the tissue damage has healed. Chronic pain in these patients is probably not directly related to their initial injury or disease condition, but rather to secondary changes including ones that occur in the pain detection system itself.
In addition to being due to different physiological mechanisms than acute pain, chronic pain often sets the stage for the emergence of a complex set of physical and psychosocial changes that are an integral part of the chronic pain problem and that add greatly to the burden of the pain patient. These include depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep, reliance on medication, reduced physical activity and function, bitterness, frustration and suicide.
Along with the significant personal cost of chronic pain to the individual, authoritative sources place the overall financial costs of chronic pain to society in the same range as cancer and cardiovascular disease.


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