European Pain Congress EFIC: Every 11th European suffers from chronic pain
Whether back pain, headache or muscle discomfort: every eleventh European suffers from chronic pain. As doctors and scientists report at the European Pain Congress EFIC currently taking place in Hamburg, the permanent pain can even cause changes in the brain. Chronifications also represent a permanent burden on European societies.
Around every fifth person in Europe suffers from pain. According to further surveys, every eleventh European citizen has chronic pain every day. Most patients are treated incorrectly or not at all, as researchers and medical specialists at the European Pain Congress EFIC in Hamburg warned. In order to achieve better health care for those affected, chronic pain should be recognized as an independent disease. Then the path to specialized training for doctors is paved and patients can get more information, the pain experts hope.
Patients with chronic pain have often had a long suffering. Many years pass before effective treatment methods come into play. Previously, those affected had undergone numerous visits to the doctor at various specialists and had been hospitalized several times. They have countless therapies like operations, injections, massages, baths, nerve blocks or cures behind them. Many people experience the subjective experience, even specialists apparently cannot help, as downright agonizing. The therapies come and go, but often the pain persists.
Economic impact on health systems
Chronic pain should never be understood as a single problem for the person concerned. The overall social and economic impact is questionable, as EFIC President Hans Georg Kress from Vienna calculated at the Pain Congress. Nineteen percent of pain patients with mild to moderate symptoms have already lost their jobs due to their symptoms. Because of the pain, 60 percent of the patients had to consult their doctor "two to nine times in the past six months," the doctor emphasized. “When we look at pain patients of working age, studies show that around two thirds of the total cost of pain is production loss.” A number that politicians should also be aware of.
In the past year, around 52 million people in Germany, Spain, Great Britain, France and Italy alone suffered from regular and recurring pain. Doctors speak of a chronification of pain if it persists for at least three to six months or occurs again and again after short interruptions. The most common pain conditions are caused by back pain (63 percent), pain in the joints (48 percent) or pain in the neck area (30 percent). Background diseases such as cancer tumors and rheumatism also cause severe and permanent pain.
Those who can afford it can get care outside of the health system and go to a chiropractor or osteopath, for example if they have back problems. For most people, however, there is massive undersupply, like Dr. Kress explained. It was "frightening that a large part of this suffering and these costs would be unnecessary and would result from massive under-treatment". Despite numerous medical and therapeutic advances in recent years, 70 percent of European patients have not even been prescribed standard therapy. Many suffer from the pain until they become unable to work. In addition, never-ending pain causes psychological ailments such as depression and increasingly limits the quality of life of patients.
Older people are under-served
To a large extent, older people in particular are affected by ineffective treatments. The specialized requirements for pain treatment of the elderly are often not adequately observed by the treating physicians. This state of affairs is particularly worrying because the ongoing demographic change is making society older. This inevitably increases the number of patients. In view of the changes, the scientists are demanding more research funding for the development of new prevention concepts and therapies. Elderly patients over 70 and 75 are excluded from most drug trials. There is little evidence of interactions with other drugs that older people have to take due to other conditions. The Dutch doctor Kris Vissers criticized, "Doctors are therefore left in the dark about the interplay of the active ingredients and their consequences". The patients then have to be left behind.
Doctors often don't take men's pain seriously enough
Pain therapy is subject to numerous prejudices. Not every pain is the same and can be lived anywhere and anytime. For example, patients in the workplace often complain less about pain than their spouses or friends and men deal with complaints differently than women, for example. Recent studies have shown that this can have fatal consequences for the quality of therapy. Because doctors also rate pain differently between women and men. “Studies show that statements about pain in women and men are assessed differently by doctors. The intensity of pain in men is particularly often underestimated, ”warns the German expert and doctor Christiane Hermann. Emotional and psychological factors can be considered in the prevention of chronic pain, as Professor Martin Koltzenburg from the UK emphasized. Optimism can activate resistance and relieve pain.
Pain experience is shaped by parents
Pain is already shaped by the behavior of the parents. Therefore, of course, pain also has an emotional component, as Hermann said. "You can see that when children fall, they often look at their parents first and try to read from their facial expressions how bad it is." If parents show sheer horror or a worrying face, the children start to cry. On the other hand, it was shown that a social network of emotional attention to patients has an analgesic effect. Therefore, according to the researchers' advice, parents should act in a balanced manner in their children's experiences of pain. Pain is serious, and should not be trivialized or dramatized. A constructive approach could be, for example: "What can help you so that you feel better again?"
According to a survey on chronic pain in Europe, chronic pain leads to changes in the human brain. The original cause of pain is often independent of the subsequent pain, as Kris Vissers from Nijmegen reported. Such brain changes affect the entire organism. Chronified pain can therefore not only be seen as a symptom of the previous illness. (sb)
Inadequate treatment of chronic pain
Laughter helps against pain
Millions of Germans have chronic pain
Back pain is the most common cause of sick leave
Image: Jutta Rotter /Pixelio.de