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Categories > Pain > Pain management

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Carrying on without pain

» Getting relief

When pain returns

You can sometimes have flare-ups or breakthrough pain even though you take around-the-clock pain medicine. It could happen as the result of a certain activity or a change in your condition. The pain might break through three to four times a day and last anywhere from just a few minutes to more than an hour.

When breakthrough pain strikes, write down when it happened and what you were doing at the time. Then, share the notes with your healthcare provider. He or she will determine the cause and may prescribe a short-acting drug for the breakthrough pain. Your healthcare provider may also recommend relaxation techniques and other stress-reducing methods. If your breakthrough pain is becoming more frequent, your healthcare provider may need to increase your around-the-clock medicine to provide you with better pain relief.

Life-limiting illnesses are often fraught with severe, chronic pain. And limiting that pain is essential to quality of life for those who suffer. Experts recommend giving medicines around the clock to manage severe chronic pain.

If the thought of constantly taking drugs makes you fear potential side effects or leaves you concerned about overdosing or becoming addicted, consider this: Around-the-clock pain medicine actually allows most patients to take less medication overall. Keeping pain under control with a consistent level of pain medicine in the bloodstream can also help prevent breakthrough pain (see “When pain returns”) as well as limit the additional drugs needed to relieve it.

Addiction is an obsessive disease that’s often inherited. People who are addicted take more than the prescribed drug dose and often mix the drug with alcohol or other drugs. But taken properly, pain medicine rarely causes addiction. You can develop tolerance to a drug, which means you may need an increased dose to achieve pain relief, but that doesn’t mean you’re addicted.

Getting relief

Pain medicine should be given in the least invasive way possible (instead of through a needle, for example) to avoid the potential for infection. Taking medicine orally in pill or liquid form is preferred, but pain medicines can also be given via:

  • a medicated patch placed on the skin
  • rectal suppositories
  • dissolvable medicine placed under the tongue, in the inside of the cheek or between the upper lip and the gums

A healthcare provider who’s well versed on pain management should assess your pain’s severity, address any possible side effects and map out a dosage schedule that’s best for you.

A short-acting, over-the-counter drug like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may work for milder pain. However, these drugs need to be taken every few hours, which can disrupt sleep, so look for a long-acting form.

If pain is severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe a long-acting narcotic, or opioid, such as morphine. Other drugs that can supplement your pain medicine and reduce the amount you need include steroids, antidepressants and antinausea medicines. Just take your medicine as prescribed so you can carry on with life.


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