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50% of Patients Don’t Get the Pain Relief they need after surgery

July 1, 2009

As you all know, those of you who follow my blog, I have been investigating health care practices after suffering my own injury in a botched surgery, and I have come across some startling facts regarding how many people suffer unnecessary pain after surgery:

Pain is thought to be inadequately treated in one half of all surgical procedures.1 In addition to immediate unpleasantness, painful experiences can imprint themselves indelibly on the nervous system (Figure 1), amplifying the response to subsequent noxious stimuli (hyperalgesia) and causing typically painless sensations to be experienced as pain (allodynia). A chronic condition sometimes develops that produces continuous pain long after surgery. Prior painful experiences are a known predictor of increased pain and analgesic use in subsequent surgery.2,3

So why do half of the patients who have surgery not get the pain relief they need?  I think this has to do with a bias that doctors have that everyone should just “tough it out.”  I know I suffered with severed nerve pain and was told to take 600mg of ibuprofen.  As you can guess, it didn’t touch the pain.  My family doctor was more helpful, and continued to order tests to help determine the cause of the nerve pain.   Not surprisingly, this link is sponsored by the American Family Physician Group, the same type of doctor who actually believed and treated my pain.

I live with chronic pain every day caused by my surgery, some days feeling like my skin is being burned with a blow torch, and even water or clothing touching it is painful, so I will admit I have stake in putting this information out there about pain relief.  But, I also think is more evidence that we need to hold physicians responsible to the same level of standards that we hold other industries.  The medical industry  needs to be held accountable, and that hasn’t happened much at all lately.

Simply obtaining a medical license does not mean that a person is without fault:  look at all the doctors surrounding celebrities like Anna Nicole, Anna Nicole’s son, Michael Jackson, and Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger.  Simply having a medical degree does not prevent someone from engaging in harmful or criminal behavior.  So, why would there be laws to protect a set industry like the medical industry?  We know that pharmaceuticals can kill.  We know that doctors are implicated in lots of deaths through medical errors, and yet we still, as a nation, have no real centralized system of tracking these errors.   If celebrities are routinely injured by medicine, how many others of us are out there who are injured but won’t be heard?

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