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Pain exacts high toll on day-to-day life for thousands of Canadian sufferers

November 3, 2006 » Toronto

An “exhausting disease” according to study

Living with pain takes a significant toll on all areas of everyday life according to Canadians diagnosed with a type of chronic pain known as neuropathic or “nerve” pain. Sixty-eight percent of patients participating in a recent study say that pain causes them great physical suffering and, to compound this, 48 per cent say their families do not understand how much pain they are in most of the time.

Sleep and mood problems caused by pain affected other areas of life for 89 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively, of study participants. Sleep problems affected work for 59 per cent of patients.

“Living with pain has become a way of life for most of us,” says Helen Tupper (Halifax, Nova Scotia), President of the Canadian Pain Coalition (CPC). “I have been lucky. My husband has been supportive and has helped me as I developed my own ways to cope with this disease but we know that many Canadians pain sufferers feel isolated. They struggle to manage work and family life while dealing with their pain.”

The CPC is a coalition of Canadian patient organizations focused on the health, social, financial and emotional issues related to pain. The study of Canadian patients was completed for the CPC by Harris Interactive®. Results offer the most recent perspectives on neuropathic pain in Canada. Completed in September 2006, it included in-depth interviews with 150 patients diagnosed with nerve pain as well as 100 physicians. At the request of the CPC, this survey was sponsored by Pfizer Canada.

“Pain is not well understood as a disease, nor do most people or governments understand its impact on the health care system or the economy,” says Dr. Celeste Johnson, CPC Executive Director. “By quantifying and bringing awareness to the issues and concerns of Canadian pain sufferers we hope to change the way people think about and address the disease of pain.”

One in five Canadians suffer from pain

It is estimated that as many as 20 per cent or six million Canadians suffer from some form of chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that persists a month or more beyond the usual recovery period for an injury or illness, or that goes on for months or years due to a chronic condition. The pain may or may not be constant but it does interfere with daily life at many levels. Examples of conditions that can lead to chronic pain include diabetes, shingles (herpes zoster) or HIV/AIDS.

Neuropathic pain or “nerve pain” is a disease caused by injury or dysfunction of the nerves in the body’s pain sensing system. Approximately 500,000 Canadians have neuropathic pain, sometimes in combination with other types of pain such as fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches.

Because every nerve has a highly specialized function in a specific part of the body, many different symptoms can occur when nerves are damaged. Some people may experience temporary numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations (paresthesia), sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may suffer more extreme symptoms, including burning pain (especially at night).[i] The most common areas of the body affected by pain, and neuropathic pain in particular, are the back, arms, feet and legs.

Combination of treatments helps patients stay active

Patients can wait months, even years, to receive a correct diagnosis and then it may take more time to find the best combination of treatments to reduce and help patients manage some of the pain. The primary treatments included prescription and over-the-counter medications but most patients also use medicines in combination with physical therapy, massage, rest, heat, ice or hydrotherapy at some point.

“You are always aware of your pain,” says CPC member Lynn Cooper (Kitchener, Ontario). “I pace myself and, like many others, find that I need a combination of treatments to be able to stay active. Keeping a positive outlook is important although I know many people who don’t have the support of family and co-workers. This support is extremely important in how people cope with pain emotionally.”

Wait times for diagnosis and treatment often lengthy

Many patients have trouble accessing a clinic that specializes in pain diagnosis and treatment. A study presentation[ii] at the Canadian Pain Society meeting in June 2006 gathered information from 101 multi-disciplinary pain clinics in Canada. Some of the results cited in the presentation included:

  • Wait time to access publicly-funded treatment facilities can be as long as five years.
  • One multidisciplinary treatment facility is available for every 250,000 Canadians with this disease.
  • As the vast majority of multidisciplinary treatment facilities are located in major
    cities, patients in or close to urban areas are more likely to receive timely
    diagnosis and treatment; there are no clinics in the province of Prince Edward Island or the three territories.

About the Canadian Pain Coalition

The Canadian Pain Coalition is focused on raising public awareness of the health, social, psychological and economic issues of pain and ensuring that this condition becomes a priority issue for Canada’s health system. CPC membership is mainly drawn from consumer and patient groups who, along with health professionals and scientists, are working to reduce the prevalence of pain in Canada.

The CPC established National Pain Awareness Week (November 5 – 11) in order to raise awareness of the prevalence of pain as well as the need for better diagnosis and treatment of pain of all types. For comprehensive information about how to recognize and cope with pain, issues, and local support group activities visit the CPC website www.canadianpaincoalition.ca.

Other sources for information about neuropathic pain:





For more information contact:

Sandra Cruickshanks, Jennifer Nebesky
Thornley Fallis Communication
416 515 7517

cruickshanks@thornleyfallis.com, nebesky@thornleyfallis.com

[i] http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm

[ii] Peng, P; Choiniere, M, et al characterization of Multidisciplinary Pain Treatment Facilities (MPTF) in Canada: STOP Pain Project, Study II, Annual Meeting of the Canadian Pain Society, Edmonton 2006. Published in Pain and Research Management, 2006, 11,121.