Worldwide, more than 120 million people live with pain due to injury or underlying disease. As the world population ages and the number of people suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease increases, treatments to manage pain will become increasingly important to global health.
Pain affects everyone, from the elder suffering from arthritis to infant crying from an earache. Pain may be temporary (acute) due to an illness, injury or surgery, or it may be long-term (chronic) due to an ongoing health condition. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, millions suffer from acute or chronic pain annually, exacting a terrible toll on quality of life as well as medical costs.
Managing chronic pain is one of medicine’s great challenges. Chronic pain includes back pain, arthritis pain, breakthrough cancer pain, and neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage. Neuropathic pain can be due to diabetes, shingles, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.
Care-givers select pain therapies based on pain duration and severity—mild, moderate, or severe. Ancient peoples relied on opium and acupuncture, still important treatments today. Dramatic advances—from ether to today’s sophisticated anesthetics—have made modern surgery possible. Since aspirin’s introduction in 1899, clinical research has delivered important new medicines for mild and moderate pain: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and COX-2 inhibitors.
For severe pain, opioid drugs remain the mainstay of therapy. These controlled medications provide essential pain management for millions. But they also pose serious risks for inappropriate prescribing and abuse, including addiction, unintentional overdose, and death. In 2011, the White House announced a broad new program to educate physicians and patients on preventing misuse of opioid medicines. For more information on chronic pain and pain management, visit the American Academy of Pain Medicine site.