You Don't Have to Live With Persistent Pain
Although many people experience more pain with age, it is not a normal part of life. Here are some tips for identifying your pain and working with your doctor to manage it.
The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) has guidelines on explaining and managing persistent pain. This term refers to pain or discomfort that continues for an extended period of time. Pain may come and go for months or years. Persistent pain can lead to further problems including depression, social isolation, disability, difficulty walking, falls, sleep problems, and diminished appetite. However, there are ways you can reduce this pain.
Identifying Your Pain
The first step is to keep track of your pain and tell your doctor about it. To give a clear explanation of what you are feeling, write down details about the pain, such as:
Keep a pain diary. This involves using a scale of 1-10 to rate the severity of pain, as well as recording the pertinent information listed above. You should bring this diary to all your medical appointments. This information will help determine the best way to manage your pain.
Understanding Pain Medications
Many medicines are available to help treat pain, these include over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription pain medicines.
Over-the-counter Pain Relievers
If you have mild to moderate pain that lasts for only a few days, over-the-counter products are both safe and helpful for most people. However, if your pain is severe or lasts longer than a few days, you might need a prescription drug for relief.
There are two main categories of over-the-counter pain relievers:
Prescription Pain Medications
Depending on your pain, your doctor may prescribe pain medicine. Some common drugs are:
The action of these drugs is similar to that of over-the-counter NSAIDs, but is more selective. They are often more expensive than other NSAIDs but may have lower stomach side effects than other NSAIDs.
Opioids may be preferred for older patients who are at greater risk of problems that can be caused by NSAIDs. These are drugs that work on the central nervous system to relieve pain. Examples of mild opioids include hydrocodone (eg, Vicodin) and codeine. Strong opioids include morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. There is some concern that opioids are addicting. However, the AGS points out that addiction to opioid pain medicines is rare in older adults who have no current or past history of substance abuse, and this concern should not prevent people and their doctors from trying this option for pain relief. If your doctor is considering prescribing opioids to treat your chronic pain, he will use screening tests and questionnaires to determine if you are at risk for addiction.
It is important to know that if you are taking an opioid drug, you should not stop it abruptly. This can cause unpleasant symptoms.
Depending on the cause of your pain, your doctor may prescribe one of these other types of drugs alone or with pain medicines to help ease your discomfort:
Be alert for side effects and tell your doctor about them; there may be better options for you. Some possible side effects include:
Trying Other Means to Ease Your Pain
Drugs are not the only way to ease pain. Here are some options that can be helpful in conjunction with the treatment your doctor prescribes:
Other therapies that might help with pain include:
Even if these methods do not resolve all of your pain, you may be able to reduce your pain to a more manageable level. The most important thing is to know that you do not have to suffer. Work with your doctor to find some relief.
American Chronic Pain Association
The American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging
American Pain Society
Chronic Pain Association of Canada
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Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD