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Pain Management Health Center

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WebMD 5: What You Need to Know About Pain

An expert answers five basic questions about pain, including why you're really aching and what's ahead for treatment.

2. What are common myths about pain? continued...

Another myth is that you have to live with it. We need to first find out if there are any medical causes that can be corrected for someone's pain, so it's not just a matter of telling someone you have to live with it. But it's up to us physicians to show people how to best manage that pain, whether through medication, surgery, physical and occupational therapy, or mind/body approaches -- all of these show significant benefit in reducing patients' pain and helping them improve quality of life and physical functioning.

One other myth is that patients sometimes think medication is going to cure pain. Most of the time, medications help reduce or alleviate patients' pain, but in very few cases do they have disease-modifying properties. The truth is, for many of these chronic painful conditions, we haven't found specific cures for the pain, but we have found wonderful ways to manage it.

3. Is chronic pain different for men and women?

Yes. This is a hot topic right now. What we know is there's a larger percentage of women who experience chronic pain --the data in my clinic is two-thirds women to one-third men. Women are more likely to get certain chronic painful conditions, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. Some conditions tend to affect men more, such as cluster headaches.

Women are also more sensitive to experimentally evoked pain (pain produced in a laboratory or research study) -- heat, cold, electrical stimuli, pressure. But we have to be careful not to interpret this increase to mean that women are weaker than men because there are genetic, hormonal, and central brain differences in women that we believe may be playing a role.

4. What promising new drugs or treatments are on the horizon?

There are drugs under investigation that modulate [adjust] the immune response in certain autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, that lead to chronic pain. Some of these are showing promise.

Researchers are working on gene therapy approaches to chronic pain, using viruses to turn on and off our own internal chemical plants to release pain-relieving substances. An example of this is when you get a runner's high: You can have gene therapy that turns that on continuously. These are still in the early stages, but they hold promise.

Scientists are investigating different ways of implanting stimulators into our nervous system and into our brain to turn off the signals responsible for pain. I think we're going to be seeing exciting treatments for chronic pain in the future.

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