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Pain: a symptom or a disease?

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Countless people live with the burden of chronic pain, which imposes major public health and financial costs on the economy. University of Sydney experts recently discussed new treatments that are changing people’s lives for the better at the Sydney Ideas Pain Forum.

The sold out event saw the University of Sydney’s Chair of Pain Medicine, Professor Paul Glare, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, Professor Chris Peck and Associate Dean, Sydney Medical School, Professor Fiona Blyth address the forum.

Pain is both personal and global and despite all that we know about its origins and treatments, countless people live with chronic pain. In Australia, it’s estimated that 20% of the population experience chronic pain, which costs the economy approximately $34 billion a year.

Part of pain’s mystery is that it is a subjective experience and until recently, medical science had few ways to see, measure or resolve its impacts on the body and mind.

Professor Glare says chronic pain can occur at all stages of life and that it’s important for patients to manage their pain appropriately.

“Chronic pain occurs across a life span,” says Professor Glare, who is also Director of The Michael J Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital.

“In children the commonest pain issues are abdominal pain and headaches. As you move into adulthood you start having problems like chronic back pain, which is the biggest cause of disability in the world. Then as people get older they face pain arising from issues such as arthritis and cancer,” he says.

“80% of people that get managed in a pain clinic get some improvement in some aspect of their pain. We now realise that chronic pain is a multi-dimensional problem that affects many aspects of a person’s life.

“There are three main modalities for managing chronic pain. One would be surgery, so if someone needs a back operation or hip replacement. The second group would be pharmacological, drugs like pain killers, anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants and anti-epilepsy drugs. And the third group are the self-management modalities,” says Professor Glare.

He says people who suffer chronic pain should see a doctor to organise appropriate treatment for their symptoms.

“If people have got pain that has been there for a few months they should go and see their medical practitioner because occasionally it can be something serious.

“Generally, it isn’t, and just taking a lot of painkillers isn’t really the answer anymore. There’s a lot that can be done to help people suffer less and be able to return to functioning.”

Chronic pain facts:

  • About 20% of the Australian population is affected by chronic pain
  • Of them 40-70% have chronic pain that isn’t being well treated
  • Chronic pain costs the economy $34 billion a year
  • 80% of patients who seek treatment in a pain clinic get some improvement in some aspect of their pain.

(Source: The University of Sydney)

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Posted On: 25 May, 2017
Modified On: 25 May, 2017

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