Chronic pain symptoms include not only pain itself, but also difficulty sleeping, fatigue, physical limitations, decreased appetite, and mood changes.
The definition of chronic pain is any pain that lasts for at least three months (12 weeks). The pain may be the result of a chronic illness that lasts for at least this long, may persist long after the injury or illness that caused it has already healed, or may have an unknown origin.
In addition to the pain itself, patients with chronic pain may have a variety of other symptoms that are caused by or exacerbated by the pain. Symptoms that may be experienced by chronic pain patients include:
• Difficulty sleeping
• Physical limitations
• Decreased appetite
• Depression and/or anxiety
Pain can make it difficult to sleep, so many patients with chronic pain have trouble sleeping at night. In some cases, sleeping medications can be used to help the patient sleep despite the pain. In other cases, ensuring adequate pain control at bedtime can give enough respite to allow the patient to sleep. However, sleep may still be affected by chronic pain despite treatment.
It’s very common for patients with chronic pain to experience severe fatigue. This is related not only to difficulty sleeping, but also to the pain itself, which demands a lot of energy. It may also be related to certain pain medications, or to the underlying cause of the pain (in the case of chronic illness). In many cases, fatigue in chronic pain patients is related to all of these factors. It may be difficult for chronic pain patients to function because of their severe fatigue.
Chronic pain often causes physical limitations. Pain in certain parts of the body may cause the patient to avoid moving those body parts. This leads to weakness and loss of flexibility in that area, potentially leading to further pain. The patient may be unable to participate in daily activities, such as school or work, or may avoid participating in certain leisure activities because of their chronic pain. In some cases, chronic pain prevents the patient from performing the activities of daily living, so that the patient requires daily assistance and cannot live alone.
People with chronic pain may also have a loss of appetite. Again, this may be related to the pain itself, to the underlying illness, to the pain medications being used to treat the chronic pain, or to all of these factors. In some cases, loss of appetite leads to undesirable weight loss, which can further weaken a patient and lead to loss of function.
Patients with chronic pain commonly experience changes in their mood, such as depression or anxiety. These can be a result of the pain and all of the associated problems that it causes. Depression and anxiety disorders are themselves also potential causes of chronic pain. In some cases, patients begin to despair of ever feeling good again, and may give up and withdraw from life. It’s important to address depression and anxiety in chronic pain patients, to prevent a downward spiral in which chronic pain causes depression, and depression worsens the pain.
National Institutes of Health. “Chronic Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment.” NIH Medline Plus 6, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 5-6. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html
National Cancer Institute. “Pain.” (2015) http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/pain
American Academy of Pain Medicine. “AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain.” http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx