Overview of Chronic Pain

Pain is an unpleasant sensation triggered by the nervous system. The ability to experience pain is critical for survival because it can make us immediately aware of injury to the body. Pain is an individual experience affected by environmental, emotional and cognitive factors.

Pain can be a symptom of illness, result from an injury, or occur with no apparent cause. Pain that results from illness or injury and tapers off or stops on its own or with medical treatment is called acute pain. Pain that persists after healing has occurred, results from long-term illness, or has no apparent cause is called chronic pain.

Chronic pain may persist for weeks, months, or years and may not respond to treatment. It can be debilitating and often becomes the defining factor in patients' lives. Without relief, or the hope for relief, many patients lose the ability to eat, sleep, work and function normally.

Chronic pain can cause patients to alienate those around them and often leads to drug addiction, irritability, and depression. Physical, psychological, and emotional stress may worsen chronic pain.

Incidence and Prevalence of Chronic Pain

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic pain is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Chronic pain occurs in as many as 90 percent of cancer patients and often is under-treated.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015