An estimated 1.65m people in Ireland are living with pain, with 21% reporting that they have been living with pain for 10 years or more. To talk more about this issue and the methods of treating chronic pain, Dr Maire Finn, a Clare-based GP, joined Sean O’Rourke.
Dr Finn said one of the main difficulties in treating pain is assessing what “type” of pain it is (it could be nerve-related, post-operative, cancer-related or other) and trying to get accurate figures on those suffering from chronic pain.
“It’s very hard to estimate how many people really have chronic pain because a lot of people will not be attending a GP or services for that. Some will expect and think that it’s natural. For instance, you can have chronic pain because of arthritis. So, at a certain age, you might have somebody who has pain every single day in their back or in their knees and they say, ‘Okay, sure my knees are at me’…but they don’t necessarily describe it as chronic pain.”
Dr Finn defined chronic pain as pain that lasts “beyond 3 months” or “beyond the normal tissue healing process” in cases of surgery or disease. It presents a challenge in terms of treating it with medication, with Paracetamol and similar drugs being considered the “first line” of pain relief. Dr Finn stressed that while some drugs certainly present less of a risk to those taking them, none are “safe”.
The steps up from a drug like Paracetamol, Dr Finn explained, are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like Voltarol and Neurofen, before moving on to the “Pandora’s Box” of opioids.
“All of them have the possibility of creating a dependence and an addiction…with an opioid, what initially works for your pain management no longer works after a period of time. You become tolerant to it. So, the two tablets that worked initially doesn’t take your pain away but four tablets does…Nobody sets out to become an addict or to become dependent on opioids.”
Sean and Dr Finn also discussed the psychological impact living with pain for an extended amount of time can have on a person., especially if they don’t “look” sick.
“They may look perfectly well but may have had to adjust their lives in a huge way to deal with this pain, may have had to give up a certain type of job…may be struggling with the medication side of things. It probably is causing difficulties with relationships at home.”
There was a big listener response to Dr Finn, with many listeners messaging the show to share their concern about loved ones who have been on certain medications for a long time and asking Dr Finn’s advice on alternative care, like acupuncture and reflexology.
Listen back to the whole segment on Today with Sean O’Rourke here.
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