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Managing Pain: What's Next, What Works


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Feb. 22, 2002 -- Thanks to recent breakthroughs in treating and preventing chronic pain, experts say no one should have to live with excruciating pain that affects their daily lives. But millions do, and that's becoming a sore issue for both doctors and their patients.

"Pain is degrading, it robs you of your quality of life, and you have a right to have it treated," said Stacie Pinderhughes, MD, assistant professor of geriatrics and internal medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Pinderhughes spoke yesterday at a media briefing on pain management in New York City, sponsored by the American Medical Association through an unrestricted grant from Purdue Pharma.

Researchers say new advances in how pain works and how it can be prevented and treated could soon make living in constant pain a thing of the past. But fears and misconceptions about potentially addictive pain medications can make it harder for some patients to get the proper treatment.

For example, Pinderhughes says recent studies have shown that minority patients are significantly less likely to receive pain medications for a number of conditions. Many doctors may also fear criminal action against them if they prescribe opioid painkillers, such as morphine, which may be abused -- even though the likelihood of either prosecution or addiction is extremely rare.

However, experts say the good news is that there are many new developments in pain management that can not only reduce suffering with or without drugs, but stop pain before it happens.

Laughter is Good Medicine

Laughter may really be the best medicine for children with pain. A new study by researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at found a good laugh can help children cope with pain.

Researchers examined the responses to pain among 21 healthy children, ranging in age from 8 to 14, as they put an arm in a tub of ice-cold water while watching a humorous video and when they watched the video before or after the experiment.

"How much they laughed was also associated with the degree of pain they felt," said study author Margaret Stuber, MD. "If they laughed beforehand, they said the cold water didn't feel so bad. If they laughed during [the experiment], they were able to do it longer."

Stuber says those children who laughed while watching the video during the cold-water test also released less of a pain-related stress hormone known as cortisol. She says those findings suggest that laughter somehow affects how the body perceives pain and more studies are needed to find out how it works.

"In the future, watching humorous videos could be come a standard component of some medical procedures," says Stuber. "It's one of the few things that is effective, but isn't expensive."

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