The opioid crisis has shown that the U.S. is a nation in pain — chronic pain. Over 20% of the country’s adult population — 50 million people — live with persistent or frequently recurring pain, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Living with chronic pain can adversely affect one’s quality of life on a daily basis, from performing simple tasks to work, relationships, and sleeping. While some people can’t find a remedy and learn to accept chronic pain, they may be missing out on a cure. How? Because they haven’t had a comprehensive discussion about the symptoms with their doctor.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a pain scale, like a blood-pressure monitor, that doctors can use to diagnose pain,” says Dr. Suhyun An an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine. “While talking to your health care provider about chronic pain can be difficult, it is a conversation worth having.
“Doctors will not know the location, timing, or intensity of your pain unless you tell them, and being specific is important for diagnostic purposes. Knowing how to talk with them can be a big step toward finding relief.”
An offers ways to communicate effectively with your doctor about your chronic pain symptoms:
Give details of your pain in writing. Putting down on paper the chronology of your pain provides a road map for the physician. “Writing down the description, timeline, location, frequency, and intensity of your pain can help get your care provider on the right track,” An says. “Make sure to include how the pain affects your daily activities, and go over your daily routine.”
Create a list of questions. Sometimes, people walk out of a doctor’s visit having forgotten to ask some key questions. Be prepared and that won’t happen. “The goal is to find the source of the pain,”An says, “so that should be the first question: ‘What causes my chronic pain?’ Have at least three questions you’re ready to ask, such as, ‘What are the available treatments, and what’s the best option for me? Does my daily diet and lifestyle contribute to the pain?’ ”
Point to the pain. “If your pain moves around, tell your doctor about all the areas that can be painful and the areas that hurt most often,” An says. “Your doctor needs to determine if the pain comes on more slowly and sticks around a long time before lessening, or if it comes on suddenly and sporadically, then leaves suddenly.”
Be assertive. “Tell the doctor what you want — be direct,” An says. “Do you expect to have tests to diagnose a cause? Do you want more in-depth information about your condition, and does the doctor know enough about it to be able to address it effectively? Have the doctor explain what the tools and tests are and why they would help. Doing everything in your power to explain your pain clearly and accurately gives you the best chances of being heard and treated appropriately.”
“Health care providers can’t feel your pain, so you need to communicate clearly and work together for a solution,” An says. “If you’re unsatisfied with their response or uncertain about how to move forward, referrals to other providers may be needed.”
Dr. Suhyun An is the clinic director at Campbell Medical Group in Houston and an expert on regenerative medicine. She is co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine.