Most people have suffered from toothache at some point in their lives, an uncomfortable throb which is almost impossible to ignore.
The relief of getting treatment can be overwhelming but when you’re caught in the middle of the pain, how do you feel? Exhausted, unable to concentrate and in no mood to socialise?
Luckily, as an acute type of pain, toothache is easily treated but for some people, pain is a long-term problem from which there’s little respite.
For chronic pain syndrome sufferers, there’s far more to deal with than simply the issue of their pain. Along with the pain, there’s a whole host of other related symptoms which can make life even more difficult and uncomfortable.
The nature of chronic pain disorder
Chronic pain syndrome is an ambivalent term that does little to accurately describe the real nature of the pain or how it relates to the individual.
There are many different causes of chronic pain, but no two cases will be identical. How chronic pain manifests is a very subjective matter and even two individuals with the same diagnosis could experience varying degrees of severity in their symptoms.
Chronic pain can be excruciating and incapacitating, preventing an individual from being able to function effectively, even with treatment and medication.
Conversely, an individual with chronic pain may only experience symptoms which are irritating and inconvenient, rather than wholly distressing.
Whatever the degree of chronic pain, it may be permanent and unrelenting or it may be episodic, with good and bad days.
All of these factors mean that chronic pain can be difficult to predict or understand, and can create a lot of skepticism in those who have never experienced it themselves.
Fatigue, lethargy and exhaustion
Those who suffer from severe pain may find that even at night it’s unrelenting, causing sufficient discomfort to make it difficult to drop off to sleep or awakening them throughout the night.
Even those who don’t rouse fully from slumber may still experience problems, with the pain preventing them from dropping into the deep sleep state which is needed to properly allow the body to heal, recover and refresh itself.
Sleep disorders, even those which appear to be relatively mild, can very quickly start to impact on the individual, creating feelings of fatigue and exhaustion, and an overwhelming lack of stamina. The key is the chronic nature of the condition; the body is very resilient and can cope remarkably well on a short-term basis but when there’s little or no respite, it inevitably starts to break down.
But even without any co-existing sleep disorders, chronic pain disorder can leave individuals feeling drained, with no energy left for anything else. Coping with pain on a long-term basis is exhausting and sufferers often withdraw, having little interest in activities they may previously have enjoyed.
The physical recognition and transmission of pain signals is a complex process and it’s one which passes through the parts of the brain responsible for emotions. The correlation between the perception of pain and the emotions is not yet fully understood by medical science, but what is known is that an individual’s mood can influence the pain signals. But rather ironically, the worse the pain is, the harder it can be to remain upbeat and positive, thereby increasing the number of transmitters that carry the pain signal.
Anti-depressants are therefore often prescribed to combat this mechanism and to switch off some of the pain transmitters in the brain. This can also help to improve mood and help individuals cope better with the ongoing nature of chronic pain.
But depression and anxiety can frequently occur alongside chronic pain too, as the effects of managing symptoms on a long term basis take their toll. It can also be frustrating to be unable to fully take part in activities that might previously have been a favourite pastime. Some people say they also lose friends as a result of no longer being socially active, and with a lack of understanding about what they’re suffering, they can withdraw.
With chronic pain, there is a psychological element but this doesn’t mean it’s “all in the head”. Chronic pain is the result of the body’s transmission system malfunctioning, with both the body and the brain causing the unwanted effects.
Even when a cause cannot be pinpointed, such as with fibromyalgia or Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, it’s important to understand that the pain is not imaginary or just a manifestation of psychological illness. Doctors don’t yet know enough about how the brain works to understand why the pain signals get misinterpreted or amplified, and as yet they’re not able to switch them off.
The information contained in this article is not intended to be construed as medical advice. If you are affected by any of these issues you should consult a doctor.