Breakthrough pain (BTP) is a fact of life for many cancer patients. But pain experts are now finding that these sudden, temporary flares of severe pain can affect people with noncancerous conditions as well.
“We are much better now at identifying breakthrough pain, partly because the government requires that we ask if a patient is in pain,” says Naum Shaparin, MD. Shaparin is a pain management specialist at New Jersey Medical School. “Before this ‘fifth vital sign’ became the norm, patients with pain were often missed because the question wasn’t asked.”
You’re a chronic pain patient who takes several prescription narcotics to control your symptoms. Then one weekend, excruciating pain lands you in the emergency room. There, a doctor grills you about your medications, in part to make sure that you’re a legitimate pain patient, not someone seeking drugs. What can you do to help the ER doctor to believe you?
It’s not always easy to tell chronic pain patients from drug-seeking patients, says Howard Blumstein, MD, FAAEM, president of the American Academy...
And new research confirms that breakthrough pain is common among noncancer patients. A recent study published in the Journal of Opioid Management found that breakthrough pain was more common in patients without cancer than among those with the disease. And the noncancer patients were more impaired than those with cancer.
Breakthrough pain -- often called “flares” by doctors or “flare-ups” by patients -- is serious enough to upset the lives of people who are already trying to control chronic pain with one or more drugs. BTP is not new pain. It is a more severe episode of the background pain that already exists.
By the Numbers
Findings taken from an American Pain Foundation (APF) survey of cancer-pain patients regarding breakthrough cancer pain confirm that numbers tell the story:
More than 80% say that BTP affects the quality of their lives, including their desire to participate in certain activities.
More than 70% say that BTP affects their relationships with family members and their ability to perform everyday chores.
More than 50% say that BTP has increased their daily medical expenses.
Different things trigger BTP for different people. Sometimes, it just happens for no particular reason. At other times, individuals get flares during certain activities like exercising, coughing, moving after surgery, going to the bathroom, or even during a simple act like dressing.