29 May 2006

Can You Die From Chronic Pain?

This was a question asked on a message board I frequent. The following answer was written by IceDrop, an RN and a person with chronic pain. She has graciously allowed me to use this for a few purposes.

Can you die from Chronic Pain?

By Icedrop

The "pain" itself isn’t going to kill you, but in the big scheme of things what pain can lead to, can kill you. It can cause anxiety which can alter your heart functions. It can cause depression and cause anxiety which leads to imbalances which encourage suicidal ideation. Increased pain can alter your diet, as can the medications. So, I think that pain can cause death in the bigger scheme of things...not all by itself. Severe pain can also cause shock...

Fainting, also called syncope, is a sudden, brief loss of consciousness and posture caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. Many different conditions can cause fainting. These include heart problems such as irregular heart beat, seizures, panic or anxiety attacks, low blood sugar, anemia (a deficiency in healthy oxygen carrying cells), and problems with how the nervous system (the body's system of nerves) regulates blood pressure. Some types of fainting seem to run in families. While fainting may indicate a particular medical condition, sometimes it may occur in an otherwise healthy individual. So, yes severe pain can cause people to faint do to the above.

Living with chronic pain can significantly alter your life. The impact of chronic pain on the patient and their family is significant. Often the patient enters into a vicious pain cycle between the mind and body where the perceptions of the pain contribute to increased stress, leading to increased tension, frustration and fear which can influence an increase in the experience of the pain, which leads to more agony and so on. The goal in part then is to interrupt this cycle and to optimize pain control and enhance psychological well-being.

The pain system is interconnected with other systems in the brain that underlie emotions, cognitions (thought) and behavior. Therefore a person with a pain problem needs to be open to looking at all aspects of his/her life, emotional state and personality in combination with medical treatment of the pain in order to manage it most effectively. Factors such as stress, pain behaviors, emotions, attitudes and physical activity all contribute to the triggering and maintenance of a chronic pain condition. Sleep disturbance, fatigue, muscle tension, arousal, medication abuse, memory and learning are other factors in the pain system.

Pain is not just a function of the mechanics of the body, it is also an experience; that is, a function of the mind. How we perceive pain and the degree of emotional impact varies from person to person. There are additional factors that contribute to pain. Depression and anxiety for example, can significantly intensify the experience of pain and associated suffering.

Individuals with pain undergo many changes in lifestyle, finances, occupational and relationship functioning. As a result the individual is grieving those associated losses that have come as a result of the chronic pain. Due to inactivity, individuals may gain weight, lose muscle conditioning and this can impact self esteem. Increased frustration can erode self-confidence in one’s sense of control over their life. Individuals can feel overwhelmed with the chronicity of their pain and the associated emotional factors which they feel to some degree each day. You, your family and significant others bring a unique blend of feelings, beliefs, expectations, coping styles, support and skills to the overall management of your pain. An obstacle to effective pain treatment can be the lack of credibility that the patient feels at times with health care professionals. Due to the huge psychological impact the pain has on their life, the patient is sometimes treated as if their pain is not real. For most individuals this is not the case; the pain is a very real and a legitimate condition even if it cannot be visibly seen. The challenge of the chronic pain sufferer is to get appropriate treatment for the pain in addition to having the psychological impact acknowledged and validated.

Pain does not exist [solely] at the site of where "it hurts physically". Pain includes the entire body...

Pain sure can feel like its going to kill you and for anyone to make a comment "it’s not going to kill you", is just arrogant and sarcastic. Those words aren’t necessarily in medical care because it does not validate the patient’s complaints of pain. Those are my thoughts on the topic.


  1. Thank you Icedrop, for your words on pain. I typed in "can pain kill a person?" and your words popped up. I wished you could be my dr. I asked my own Dr that question and she just looked at me, got silent, smiled and said "of course not". I've been in pain for 7 1/2 years, and have tried everything under the sun, and more. I've been to 3 different physicians, chiropractor, holistic. I've even lost 40 lbs to see if it would help. I always feel like my life force is draining away little by little, and i do feel like im dying. i used to be so active and have so much energy all the time, now im lucky to just get out of bed in the morning and have only a few hours of moderate pain before it gets debilitating, then it takes my joy away. I do take a pain pill only at night, mostly because i don't want to tax my liver or get addicted. I even asked my dr if they could amputate my feet, she thought i was kidding, i was dead serious. At this point in my life i haven't thought about suicide, or hurting myself, but i have entertained the thought of death being my only way out of this pain. I think in the old days, I can see how this kind of pain would drive someone insane, that would lead to suicide. Thanks for your comments and validating my thoughts and fears. First time i haven't felt like what im going through "isn't as bad as i think" Blessings to you, Dev

  2. Dev,
    This was a guest post from Icedrop. Unfortunately I lost track of her some time ago or I'd gladly pass on your thanks to her. I'm the Wayney in Wayney's BlogPlace. I don't have an explanation for drs like yours. You didn't mention what your pain type is, do you mind me asking? I've had chronic pain since I was 7 and I'm now 35. I once was worried about addiction too but then I researched it. People with chronic pain who are responsibly treated have addiction rates that are about the same rate as people without chronic pain. Most of the time, people with pain become addicted because a doctor does not properly treat their pain, using a med that's not appropriate for that type of pain, using too high a dose or the person has an addictive nature at times. But, most patients who are properly monitored and have a doctor who prescribes pain meds responsibly are not going to become addicted. The larger number of people with pain end up not needing as much medication if they find a treatment that works on the issue that causes their pain, or if they have a surgery to relieve the pain. In cases where the person is not finding relief for the cause of their pain, they generally do not become addicted. When a medication is properly used for the medical condition it is commonly used for then there is no shame in that. Telling a person who is physically dependent on pain medication to treat their pain that they're addicted is like telling a diabetic they're addicted to insulin, or telling a person who has had an organ transplant that they're addicted to the anti-rejection drugs, or people with high blood pressure that they're addicted to their blood pressure meds.

    Liver damage is a valid concern. As long as one does not go over the daily limit of a med that's generally considered safe and follows doctors orders, doesn't mix alcohol with meds that greatly affect the liver (esp Tylenol) the risks of liver damage can be minimized. And there are a number of pain medications that are not mixed with Tylenol.

    Have you ever went to a pain management specialist? Many times they are MUCH better for people with pain. I LOVE my pain mgmt doctor and the NP that works in his office as well. I see both of them at times. The NP for my monthly visits, the dr at various times throughout the year as well as when he does certain procedures on my back. I went 3 yrs without seeing them because I was in the hospital 11 mo and then in the nursing home for 2 yrs and I thought he'd been notified but no one told him I was in the hosp.

    I'm sorry it took me a bit to approve your comment. I've been away from my email lately and just saw the comment. If you'd tell me what your pain is and where you're located I can see if I can find a pain mgmt doc for you. You can add a reply here and I will see it but if you want it to not be published because of answering my questions just left me know. Or you can email me directly at wayneyp at gmaildotcom.

    Oh one more thing...this link is to a piece I wrote on Chronic Pain: Addiction, Dependence, and Tolerance. http://wayneysplace2.bravehost.com/chronicpain.htm It has a lot of info about the differences between addiction and dependence and how tolerance fits in as well. Please let me know if I can help in any way.