The Price Tag of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain comes at a cost -- from lost wages to social stigma. You don't have to pay the price.
Another Price of Pain: Social Stigma
Pain has a high social cost for the sufferer, too. Because pain is a
personal and subjective experience, it can lead to problems with family and
co-workers. While you may be in terrible distress, the people around you just
can't see or feel what you're going through.
"I think people in pain sometimes get unfairly dismissed by family and
co-workers" Robert Bonakdar, MD, tells WebMD, "especially when they
don't have an outward sign of suffering, like a cast or a bandage."
Bonakdar is the director of integrative pain management at the Scripps Center
for Integrative Medicine, La Jolla, Calif.
Cohen says this is toughest for people who suffer from painful syndromes,
like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and complex regional pain
"There's much less sympathy and understanding for these elusive
syndromes," says Cohen. While Edwards says that the treatment for pain can
often lead to as much stigma as the pain itself.
"When people hear that you're taking a narcotic pain reliever like
methadone," he says, "they associate it with addicts." That can
lead people to make some very wrong assumptions about you.
Are Health Risks the Price of Pain Relief?
Adding insult to injury, some pain medicines can pose health risks as well.
The Cox-2 inhibitors Vioxx and Bextra are no longer available, removed from the
shelves because of side effects. And we've all heard the stories about
celebrities developing an addiction to narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and
Even a class of common over-the-counter painkillers -- NSAIDs (non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin -- can pose a
risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.
"The costs of treating complications from NSAIDs are more than $2
billion a year," says Cohen. "That's almost the same amount that's
spent on these drugs."
It can leave someone in pain stuck in the middle. They want relief from
their pain, but they're worried the treatment will be worse than the cure.
However, Cowan says that fears of addiction to narcotic painkillers are
overstated. "People think that if you take a dose of OxyContin, you become
a lifelong addict," says Cowan. "That's not true." She says that
usually, when taken as prescribed, people will not have a problem.
Edwards adds that there's confusion between dependence on a drug and
addiction to it.
"If you take any drug regularly, your body will get used to it," he
says. "That's called dependence and it's very different from addiction. I'm
an asthmatic and I'm dependent on my inhaler. Without it I'm on the floor
gasping. But that does not mean I'm addicted to it."
Dependence can cause some symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking the
medicine. Your pain might worsen temporarily. But Edwards says there are ways
of lessening these side effects if you're prepared for them.