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Edmonton Journal - Chronic pain a disease, too

October 7, 2011 » Edmonton

Chronic pain a disease, too
Edmonton Journal October 7, 2011

Re: "Canadians with chronic pain struggle to find help and hope; Few options available for the estimated six million people who never stop hurting," The Journal, Oct. 1, as part of the series "Who will stop the pain," from Oct. 1-5.

I would like to commend Postmedia News writer Sharon Kirkey on this series of articles. She has obviously done a lot of work researching and writing this series and has captured much of what people in pain go through on a daily basis, and I do hope those who can create some change in this area of medicine will take note and actually do something.
I have written over the years about the serious nature of pain: its consequences on those who suffer, their families, our health care system and our communities, yet pain remains undertreated, misunderstood and often ignored.
Over the years this problem has grown and now affects more people then heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined and as we all age it becomes a bigger and bigger problem.
It is sad that in the 21st century we continue to ignore such a huge problem and pass it off as something "in your head."
It is sad that less than 0.25 per cent of medical research dollars in Canada are spent on pain research when pain affects so many of us.
It is sad there is such a huge chasm in knowledge and understanding between medical disciplines and even among many in the same discipline.
It is sad that people in pain are stigmatized and judged by friends, family and health-care providers as "drug seekers," as having a "psychological disorder," as "lazy," as "being flaky and unreliable," as "hypochondriacs," as "malingerers" and the list goes on.
If a person is on opioids any other health problem is attributed to opioids or is not taken seriously.
Chronic pain sets the stage for a complex set of physical and psychosocial changes that are an integral part of the chronic pain problem and that add greatly to the burden of a pain sufferer.
It is time to recognize pain as a disease in its own right and get on with solving the problem. It is time the head in the sand approach was dispensed with.
Let's hope these articles are the catalyst needed to effect change. God knows it is time.

Barry D. Ulmer, executive director, the Chronic Pain Association of Canada, Edmonton


In addition to the op-ed from Dr. Ulmer, there were several letters published today in response to the pain series:

Ottawa Citizen

Re: The burden of no proof, Oct. 2.
Sharon Kirkey's recent series on chronic pain brought to light an important, albeit often invisible, condition.
For the last few years I have watched my daughter and two friends struggle with chronic headaches or migraines - pain so bad, that they despair.
Doctors, prescriptions, more doctors, side effects, experimental therapies, depression. Their world of pain is punctuated by a search for relief, however fleeting.
Chronic headaches are invisible. They rob one of friends, of time, of joy. In a worst-case scenario, of life.
And how does one respond when friends, family, employers and even doctors believe chronic headache pain to simply be "all in their head"?
It's time to take chronic headache pain seriously. The medical profession must do more than medicate - or not. At the same time, politicians must see that treating pain is as worthy of funding as knee and hip replacements.

The Star Phoenix
By Andre R. Gignac, The StarPhoenix October 7, 2011

Any and all progress made in the research on chronic pain (Pain research making gains, SP, Oct. 3) is good news, because hope resides in that endeavour.
Unfortunately, knowing what level of the neuraxis is mostly involved in the transmission of a certain pain comes as poor consolation to desperate patients whose pleas for help are too often met with incredulity and dismissive remarks.
A specialist in Regina to whom I had been referred by my family doctor went further than the usual rolling of the eyes: He flatly refused even to hear about my symptoms and showed me the door, saying. "I can't help you.
Goodbye, sir." I lost a couple of hours of work for those two memorable minutes.
Unless research can actually force a needed change of culture, it will go nowhere near its avowed objective of "stamping out once and for all the skepticism faced by many who suffer severe, persistent pain," and its corollary, the validation of pain as a "neurophysiologic phenomenon" and that "it is whatever the patient says it is."
I wouldn't hold my breath on the latter, but the former seems to be attainable.
In that regard, the first Canadian pain summit, to be held in Ottawa next year, is quite promising.

Andre R. Gignac, Saskatoon

Edmonton Journal

Thank you for the excellent information series on chronic pain. The articles are correct in saying that depression, not being believed, hopelessness and isolation act together to make the situation worse.
There are helpful things people can do for themselves here in Edmonton while they get the best medical advice and wait for a cure.
At the Hope Foundation where I work, we run groups to help people with chronic pain overcome hopelessness, feel more positive and learn to speak up for their needs. We offer counselling for depression. Alberta Health also has programs aimed at living well.
This message is important because depression causes people to lose hope. They stop looking for help. They stop going out. They stop noticing things that could distract them from the pain. They lose the will to describe their symptoms because they are certain nobody believes them.
You don't have to cure the chronic pain to have hope. You can treat depression without curing the pain. You can find people who are willing to work with chronic pain.

Wendy Edey, R. Psych, Hope Foundation of Alberta, Edmonton