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More understanding needed for chronic pain - survey

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A recent phone poll of over 1,600 New Zealand adults commissioned by Pfizer New Zealand in partnership with Arthritis New Zealand shows that many people who experience chronic pain feel their condition is misunderstood by society and sometimes by healthcare professionals.

Chronic pain is a complex condition to treat because it is present among many illnesses, from arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis to other musculoskeletal pain disorders.

The Pfizer New Zealand Health Report: Chronic Pain, released today, found that one in eight (12%) New Zealand respondents are affected by chronic pain,1 and 65 per cent of those with chronic pain said other people often or sometimes doubted the reality of their pain.2 Thirty-five per cent of all respondents agreed with the statement that chronic pain is used as an excuse for people who don't want to work.3

Arthritis New Zealand Chief Executive Sandra Kirby says the survey results shine a worrying spotlight on the challenges people face living with chronic pain in New Zealand.

"There is a stigma attached to chronic pain, as it's an invisible disability. Pain can't be seen by the eye, so people often don't understand it's there. It has a severe impact on quality of life, stopping people from carrying out day-to-day tasks, holding down jobs, or even getting a good night's sleep. For many the struggle of living with chronic pain continues to be unrecognised," says Ms Kirby.

According to the Pfizer New Zealand Health Report: Chronic Pain:

� Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents with chronic pain said it greatly affects their ability to hold down a job, 57 per cent said it greatly affects their ability to play sports and a third said it greatly affects their ability to enjoy leisure activities.4

� Over half (53 per cent) of respondents with chronic pain said it greatly affects their ability to sleep.5

The survey also revealed that one in four respondents (28 per cent) who seek treatment for chronic pain are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the treatment they're receiving,6 and 30 per cent of those with chronic pain are purchasing pain medications other than what their healthcare professional has prescribed them.7

Ms Kirby says the results emphasise the urgent need for a national pain strategy to provide further education, resources, and information to both patients and healthcare professionals about lifestyle and treatment options for those living with chronic pain.

"The challenge we face is that the science of chronic pain is ahead of the diagnosis and treatment. Experts are telling us that the brain can play an integral role in how we process pain signals, but the basics of pain science are not always well understood across all providers of chronic pain treatment," says Ms Kirby.

The way in which people access chronic pain treatment is broad, according to the Pfizer New Zealand Health Report: Chronic Pain:

� Eighty-six per cent of people with chronic pain consult their GP; 47 per cent also seek help from other health professionals, 56 per cent see or speak to a physiotherapist; 36 per cent a pharmacist; and 45 per cent an acupuncturist, chiropractor or occupational therapist.8

� Only 30 per cent have seen or spoken to a pain specialist and 23 per cent an arthritis specialist or rheumatologist. 9

"Most people suffering from arthritis and other forms of chronic pain are looking for ways to help cope and increase mobility. Effectively managing chronic pain involves more than taking medication - patients need a holistic pain treatment strategy that engages all types of chronic pain treatment providers to help take control of their pain. Without the right tools and information, pain can be like a prison for some patients," says Ms Kirby.

Internationally, chronic pain is increasingly being recognised as health a priority. Chronic pain diagnosis and treatment was in the spotlight at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing earlier this year. The Institutes of Medicine (IOM) report "Pain in America: Exploring Challenges to Relief," recommended improving diagnosis, treatment and research into chronic pain.10

Recently, Australia's chronic pain was calculated as the country's third most costly health issue in their "National Pain Strategy: Pain Management for all Australians." The mission of the strategy is to improve quality of life for people with pain and their families, and to minimise the burden of pain on individuals in the community.11

In New Zealand in 2010, the total financial cost of arthritis (a principal cause of chronic pain) was estimated to be $3.20 billion. 12 With an estimated 25, 000 New Zealanders unable to work due to chronic pain from arthritis, this would equate to $1.48 billion in lost productivity. 13

Frances Benge, Managing Director for Pfizer New Zealand, supports the call for a national pain strategy to help promote and better manage diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain in New Zealand.

"As a pharmaceutical company which discovers and provides pain medicine, we also feel a responsibility to look beyond medicine and ask questions about the patient experience. Collaboration with partners such as Arthritis New Zealand is essential to fully understand the bigger picture of pain management and ultimately help deliver best-practice care and medicines to chronic pain patients," says Ms Benge.

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