Chronic pain is more than an illness. For those who suffer from it, it is a prison sentence. It affects abilities, relationships, financial status and all aspects of physical and emotional health. What's more, it isolates its sufferers, making them more prone to depression — a condition that only worsens their symptoms. 

According to the Institute of Medicine, there are more than 100 million people in the U.S. who suffer from chronic pain. That's more than the number affected by cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke combined. But unlike these other major illnesses, chronic pain is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, frustrating sufferers as well as their friends, family and health care providers. Many chronic pain sufferers are not only battling a daily struggle with pain, they are also doing it alone.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that sufferers of chronic pain report some of the lowest quality-of-life levels among people with major illnesses. This is because chronic pain, with its vague symptoms and ineffective treatment, tends to isolate sufferers from their primary support group — friends and family who grow weary of hearing their loved ones complain about feeling ill when it seems that so little can be done to alleviate their symptoms. So it's no wonder that chronic pain is so often linked to depression. And health experts think the symptoms of the two conditions might actually begin to overlap and magnify when they occur together.

Depression can cause fatigue, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, anxiety and mood swings. These symptoms in turn affect pain reception and mood regulation. So when the pain is worse, depression becomes worse making it difficult for the sufferer to eat, move, sleep and respond to treatment. The cycle continues to build upon itself until sufferers are able to get either the chronic pain or the depression under control so that healing can begin.

Health experts say that the best way to battle both chronic pain and depression is for patients to be active participants in their own care — problem-solving ways to tackle daily activities, avoiding behaviors that bring on pain, improving communication, and most importantly, avoiding behaviors that keep them isolated from their friends and family.

Bottom line: If you suffer from chronic pain, reach out to friends and family for help. Don't let this illness isolate you from the very people who may be able to help you heal.

Source: The Washington Post

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