Pain – The thought of it makes us grimace, but pain is difficult to define, let alone manage. The dictionary definition of pain is “an unpleasant sensation, ranging from mild, localized discomfort to agony.” Pain comes from the Latin word “poena” meaning a fine, or a penalty.

painIn the past several weeks I’ve heard many stories about patients in hospitals whose pain is not being managed well. This is disturbing because it is well documented that healing can be delayed or even disrupted if one does not have good pain management. And with modern technologies, combined with some of the age-old practices of good pain management, in a hospital setting we should really be able to help patients manage their pain.

Part of good pain management starts with understanding what happens physiologically in the body if pain is not managed well:

* Cardiovascularly – there can be an increase in the heart rate of a patient , and an increase in the amount of oxygen that the heart consumes

* Endocrine System: – hormones are released in the body which breakdown nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This can result in weight loss, increased heart rate, respirations or breathing rate that is increased, fever, shock and even death

* Respiratory System – Decreased volume of oxygen circulating in the body, decrease in the need to urinate. (Note: this is part of the fight or flight syndrome In an emergency situation when your adrenaline is increased, there is no time to go to the restroom, thus our body systematically adjusts to a threat or perceived threat by slowing down non-essential processes for the moment, and speeding up other processes.

* Gastrointestinal System: – The gastrointestinal system (stomach and digestion) slows down, urinary output is decreated, there can be retention of urine, resulting in fluid overload to the body

* Immune – When pain is unrelieved the immune system is affected

* Quality of Life – non-relieved pain results in anxiety, fear, inability to rest or sleep, and increased suicidal thoughts

* Cognitive: mental confusion, reduced inability to think clearly

It is important to be educated, even as a non-medical person about how pain can affect one’s bodily processes. If you or a loved one is faced with a hospitaliation or illness that results in pain, you can print out the article above so that you can more easily report specific effects of pain to the doctor managing your or a loved one’s care.