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Chronic Pain - Topic Overview

This topic is for people with chronic pain caused by problems other than cancer. If you are looking for information on pain caused by cancer, see the topic Cancer Pain.

Pain that lasts for 3 months or longer is called chronic. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. It's normal for you to have pain when you are injured or ill. But pain that lasts for weeks, months, or years is not normal.

Chronic pain can occur anywhere in your body. It can range from being mild and annoying to being so bad that it gets in the way of your daily activities.

Anyone can get chronic pain. It's more common in older adults, but it's not a normal part of aging. Older adults are more likely to have long-term medical problems, such as diabetes or arthritis, which can lead to ongoing pain.

The cause of chronic pain is not always clear. It may occur because brain chemicals that usually stop pain after you get better from an illness or injury are not working right. Or damaged nerves can cause the pain. Chronic pain can also occur without a known cause.

Common symptoms of chronic pain include:

  • Mild to very bad pain that does not go away as expected.
  • Pain that is shooting, burning, aching, or electrical.
  • Soreness, tightness, or stiffness.

If you have pain for a long time, it can make you feel very tired and may lead to depression.

It can get in the way of your usual social and physical activities. You may have so much pain that you can't go to work or school.

The emotional upset may make your pain worse. And your body's defense system (immune system) may get weak, leading to lots of infections and illnesses.

Your doctor can find out if you have chronic pain by asking about your past illnesses and your overall health. He or she will also do a physical exam.

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