Doctors struggle to identify, treat pain

Many doctors struggle to identify — and then treat — pain, the editorial in the latest edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal says.

Written by University of Otago researchers, the editorial said pain was the number one reason for patients visiting their doctor, but many clinicians were unsure what to treat, and how to do so.

"Pain is what the patient says it is," lead author Nicola Swain, from the department of psychological medicine, said.

"While expression of an individual’s pain is affected by their experience and a range of other associated factors, including specific context and affective state, pain is always real."

The World Health Organisation had listed health conditions which caused most loss of life, and six of the top eight were pain issues — which included lower back pain, arthritis, migraine and various musculoskeletal pain — Dr Swain said.

"It is a subjective experience, and its complexity can make assessment challenging, even when using accepted measures."

Persistent pain — pain which persisted for more than six months — affected one in five New Zealanders, and accounted for 5% of all health loss and the greatest loss of work productivity.

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