Severe Chronic Pain -- Life Threatening?

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New evidence summarized in the Chronic Pain Letter, by Dr. Michael R. MacDonald.

For many people with chronic pain, life as they had known it is over. Long-term pain can create intense suffering, as well as serious and permanent losses in people's lives.

But, does chronic pain really influence life and death? This issue and recent scientific evidence was discussed in a recent issue of The Chronic Pain Letter.

Recent scientific studies suggest that severe chronic pain can have a strong influence. One recent study, for example, was brought to my attention by a newsletter, Pain Monitor, May 2010, from the American Pain Foundation and the blog Pain Topics (April 8, 2010).

They highlight a credible study, Severe chronic pain is associated with increased 10 year mortality, published in the European Journal of Pain (2010, volume 14, 180-186). This large study was conducted in Scotland, by Drs. Torrance, Elliott, Lee and Smith, from the University of Aberdeen. In this study, 5858 individuals were studied over a 10 year period. These individuals suffered from a variety of long-term pains, including back, neck, arthritic, or chest pains. The severity of their chronic pain was assessed using the Chronic Pain Grade scale, developed and published by Drs. Von Korff, Ormel, Keefe and Dworkin (Pain, 1992, 50, 133-149). This is a well-known and accepted measure in the scientific study of pain.

This study found that severe chronic pain, defined as a chronic pain grade level 3 or 4 (out of 4), was associated with an significantly increased risk of death over a 10 period. This increased risk was for circulatory system deaths, respiratory deaths as well as for all deaths. The survival curves plotted by the authors were quite striking. These findings held true, even after factors such as age, sex, education, income or the presence of long-term limiting illnesses were ruled out.

The authors point out that this is not an isolated finding. Other studies have also pointed to connections between chronic widespread pain and increased cancer and cardiovascular mortality. More research needs to be done, of course, to investigate these very serious health issues.

Population studies have estimated that 10-20% of people from around the world suffer from chronic or long-term pain. This estimate represents over 50 million people, at a cost to society of over 70 billion dollars, in North America alone. (Details from research studies are available from Media and Basic Facts links on the website Unbelievable Pain Control).

Dr. Michael R. MacDonald, a psychologist practicing in London, has devoted his career to helping people with severe and disabling forms of chronic pain and fibromyalgia. He is well known for his caring approach, his deep understanding of how chronic pain affects peoples’ lives and for his work as an expert witness in court.

If you would like more information about any of these topics, or to schedule an interview with Michael MacDonald, please call 519-660-8139 or email michael(at)renfordbooks(dot)com.

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