Fear vs. Fact: The Truth About Pain

Monday, August, 01, 2011

Pain is more complex than an uncomfortable physical sensation. It can also cause a variety of other problems, including disruptions in sleep, difficulty focusing, fatigue, feelings of isolation or depression and even suicidal thoughts, that can be highly detrimental to quality of life.

Unfortunately, there are many persistent myths and misconceptions surrounding pain and its treatment that often prevent patients from seeking relief. 

If your loved one is experiencing chronic or severe pain, it’s important to help them overcome any anxieties they may be facing and seek treatment so that they do not continue to suffer unnecessarily.

Here are some common fears about pain management and the facts that you need to know to help your loved one find relief and regain their quality of life:

Fear: Pain is an inevitable part of aging and dying.

Fact: Pain is not a normal part of aging, and it has many possible causes. It is important to seek medical help so that the underlying cause can be identified and treated. 

Fear: I should wait until the pain is unbearable to seek treatment.

Fact: Untreated pain can take a serious toll on a person’s physical and emotional well-being by interfering with their ability to perform critical functions of life such as breathing, eating, sleeping and moving. 

The sooner the pain is brought under control, the sooner they can resume more normal levels of activity.

Fear: What if my pain can’t be treated?

Fact: Some types of pain may require a combination of approaches, but recent advancements in analgesia assure that almost all pain can be relieved by using commonly available medications, sometimes in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, nerve block or physical therapy, when needed.

Fear: If I start taking pain medication, I’ll become addicted.

Fact: Drug addiction is defined as regularly taking a narcotic for compulsive emotional or psychological needs rather than for pain relief. Taking medication under the supervision of a physician for the treatment of chronic or severe pain is not an addictive behavior, and there is no empirical evidence that taking opioids such as morphine necessarily leads to addiction.

Fear: I’m afraid of developing a dependence on or tolerance to pain relievers. 

Fact: Many patients fear that once they begin taking medication for pain, they will have to continually increase the dosage to maintain relief.

In fact, in most cases, the opposite is true. In the beginning, a strong dose may be administered to bring the pain under control. However, once this effect is achieved and maintained for several days, the dose of an opioid analgesic can be lowered without a recurrence of the pain. 

Fear: I don’t want to feel tired or sedated all the time.

Fact: In most instances, effective management allows pain to be reduced to a tolerable level while preserving the patient’s ability to function normally. 

In fact, bringing pain under control often makes it easier to sleep, which helps the patient feel more alert during their waking hours.

Fear: I don’t want to take injections.

Fact: While it was once believed that morphine only worked when administered through injection, today there are other equally effective alternatives, including oral preparations and skin patches.

Fear: I don’t want to be hospitalized.

Fact: Effective pain management can be provided just as safely and effectively – or even more so – wherever the patient calls home, whether a private residence, nursing home or inpatient hospice facility.

Fear: My pain is getting worse; that must mean my condition is getting worse, too.

Fact: Many patients are afraid to confront symptoms of pain because they fear the implications it may have on their overall prognosis. In fact, pain can occur for any number of reasons and at any time during the course of an illness. 

Fear: If I take morphine, I will die sooner than if I do not.

Fact: Morphine does not lead to death. Rather, it is a safe and effective treatment option for those experiencing severe or chronic pain that eases breathing and makes it easier to relax and sleep.

Fear: I’m afraid to talk to my family or my doctor about my pain because I don’t want them to think I’m weak or exaggerating.

Fact: Taking medication to manage pain is not a sign of weakness, and every patient has the right to have their pain addressed. 

The only person who can accurately assess the level of pain is the one who is experiencing it. Suffering in silence only robs the patient of the opportunity to enjoy the best possible quality of life, no matter the underlying condition causing the pain.

How to help your loved one

Effective pain management begins with honest open communication. 

Encourage your loved one to talk to their doctor about the pain they are experiencing. When they do, make sure they provide these critical points of information to help their physician determine the best course of action:

  • Where is the pain located?
  • When did it begin?
  • Is the pain constant or intermittent?
  • What is the nature of the pain? Is it a sharp, stabbing sensation, a feeling of throbbing or a dull ache?
  • What, if anything, have you found that brings relief for the pain?
  • What, if anything, have you found makes the pain worse?
  • How is the pain affecting your quality of life?

If you are concerned that your loved one might be hesitant to discuss these matters freely in the doctor’s office, have this conversation with them in the comfort and privacy of home and discuss your notes with their physician during their next visit.

Another key to ensuring optimal pain management is helping your loved one keep a record of pain throughout the day, rating the intensity on a scale from zero (none) to 10 (unbearable). This information can help your love one’s physician determine what may or may not be working effectively and adjust the prescribed course of treatment or dosage as necessary.

If you feel your loved one’s physician isn’t addressing their pain satisfactorily, seek out the assistance of a palliative care specialist such as Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County. You can initiate the referral process yourself simply by contacting the HPCIC office nearest you and asking to speak with our intake specialist or by using our online inquiry form. We’ll provide more information about our services and work with the patient's doctor for certification into our program.

Your advocacy and persistence in obtaining pain care management for your loved one is critical to helping them obtain relief and achieve a measurable improvement in their quality of life.



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