How Does Long-Term Chronic Pain Impact the Mental & Physical Health?

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does chronic pain affect mental health

Being in any sort of pain is uncomfortable. Even the most trivial pain is uncomfortable, such as a paper cut or a stubbed toe, but this is likely to subside within a short period of time.

However, if you image the more serious and long-lasting pain that never seems to fade.

This type of chronic pain can start to have a negative impact on a person and their ability to go about day-to-day activities.

What is the impact of chronic pain on everyday life?

Chronic pain is certain to have an unfavorable effect on the physical well-being, employment and psychological health.

This type of complaint has the potential to put millions of workers out of action. Chronic pain is linked to:

  • Lowers the ability to work – for instance, the patient with long-term arthritis is certain to experience episodes of severe pain, which limits the ability to work productively and less hours are likely to be spent in the workplace.
  • Leads to family and marital problems over the long-term because of the constant pain and discomfort.
  • Increased difficulty in being able to perform day-to-day jobs.
  • Long-term chronic pain is well reported to lead to depression.
  • The younger sufferers of this disorder are believed to be at higher risk of attempting suicide.
  • It can have a negative impact on sleep and makes it difficult to enjoy a relaxed and proper sleeping pattern.
  • Over the long-term, chronic pain can leave a patient with a feeling of helplessness because of the inability to fully control their life

In addition to the common symptoms of this disorder like suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression, there is also a long list of associated diseases that occurs with long-term chronic pain.

These extra conditions can include high blood pressure, incontinence, impaired immune function, ulcers, skin rashes and metabolic imbalance.

Any patient that starts to experience even a few of these disorders or diseases will soon start to notice a decline in their all-round health and well-being.

What happens when chronic pain goes untreated?

Chronic pain can start to have a very intense impact on a person’s life if left untreated.

Some of the first signs for patients that have to suffer long-term or ongoing pain relate to impatience, short-temper and being irritable.

A constant or recurring spell of pain starts to increase the threshold of basic functioning.

This means the person finds it a lot more difficult to complete everyday things or complete even the most basic problems.

For instance, something that is mildly annoying for the person that is fully healthy could be completely different for those with chronic pain.

They could be easily thrown off rhythm and find it difficult to put in the extra effort to complete even the most basic things throughout the course of the day.

In time the symptoms of chronic pain start to really wear a person down and leave them completely sapped of motivation and drained of energy.

Many people with this type of disorder put a lot of effort into limiting social contact in an attempting to have more control over the use of energy and also to reduce the feeling of stress.

The further the chronic pain goes untreated the greater the risk is of developing the depression-like symptoms.

This can relate to an inability to concentrate on simple tasks, a wish to simplify their life and limited interpersonal interaction.

By combining these conditions, it is possible to create the personal environment that is quiet and more isolated.

A way to escape the intrusion of pain is through sleep. But to control the pain and exhaustion, it is necessary for someone to extend their sleeping periods to 10+ hours per day.

does chronic pain affect mental health

Does it affect a person’s brain?

In certain studies there is an indication that chronic pain over the long-term can lead to a negative impact on a person’s brain chemistry, as well as making a change to the way the nervous system operates.

It is believed that the brain and spinal cord cells in those suffering with chronic pain are liable to start deteriorating at a fast rate, and this is one of the reasons for the depression-like symptoms to become more noticeable.

Over time, the person with chronic pain starts to experience a lot more problems when it comes to process a variety of things at once.

Plus, the limitation in focus also means it takes longer to fully react to changes that are taking place in their local surroundings.

Other areas of concern include the ability to sleep. A good night’s sleep starts to become virtually impossible.

A reason for this is because the part of the brain responsible for sense-data is also responsible for the sleep phase.

Over time the regulator can start to shrink in size due to the pain, which makes the ability to get and stay asleep that much more difficult for those with constant episodes of pain.

Unrelieved pain has the potential to limit the brain’s ability to full rest and develop a constant supply of new cells that are required to repair damage.

The rate of brain decline in a patient is quite rapid compared to the healthy patient.

For instance, the signs of decline that take 12 months in a patient with chronic pain can take 10-20 years for the healthy patient that has no concerns with pain.

Cerebral atrophy has the potential to lead to dementia and seizures, which can be fatal. But it is possible to prevent these types of conditions with the right pain care treatment.

The change in brain chemistry not only makes some of the symptoms a lot more profound, there is also the risk that new symptoms are created.

Some of the most likely relate to depression and anxiety. Once the brain experiences a certain amount of pain, it may start to rewire itself to make it easier to handle future episodes.

This can leave the patient feeling wary and the anxiety related to future pain becomes more noticeable.

In truth, it is believed that nearly 1/3 of patients with untreated chronic pain can endure periods of depression in later life.