Tag Archives: Pain Medication

Dr. C’s Journal: Pain Without Treatable Cause

Pain is useful to survival, and therefore is evolutionarily conserved. There is a very rare syndrome with the congenital inability to experience pain that Is caused by mutations in the SCN9A gene, which codes for a sodium channel (Nav 1.7). Research on this channel has apparently produced some advances in pain medication, but not as much as expected.

Individuals with insensitivity to pain have many accidental injuries which can cause blindness, mutilations of the extremities, and other severe problems. Lack of ability to feel pain is serious handicap.

Pain is generally a useful red flag that warns us to stop the painful activity, or guides us into the doctors office; about half of all medical visits involve pain of some sort.

Considered as a symptom, pain helps guide the physician into the proper diagnosis and treatment. Normally the pain stops when the condition that produced it is corrected. Pain sometimes outlives it’s usefulness, however, and becomes a major problem on his own. The most obvious condition is “phantom limb pain”. Most people who have had an amputation will continue to experience pain in the extremity that is no longer present.

Back pain that has no valid surgical treatment will sometimes drive individuals to surgeons who will operate on them unsuccessfully. A second opinion, preferably by a medical doctor like a neurologist, is always a good idea with back pain without sciatica, numbness, or other localizing symptom to tell the doctor where to operate.

Neuropathic pain is another conundrum. I know of an individual who was bitten on the foot by a dog, and continued to have severe foot pain for many years after the original injury healed.

All pain is interpreted in the brain, and continuing circles of central nerve activation is the leading theory of phantom limb and neuropathic pain. Pain is not objectively measurable; there is no meter that you can attach to the patient and find how much pain they are actually having. The doctor must assume that the patient has the pain they are describing, and ask the patient to rate it on a 0 to 10 scale, describe its severity, time course, quality, and any factors that will make it better or worse. Most often this produces an avenue to treatment, but sometimes not.

A few decades ago, busy doctors would label the pain that they could not diagnose as “psychological”, and dismiss the patient to suffer in silence. Much of the pain, however, was very real to the patients, who joined in patient advocacy groups and produced a political backlash which induced doctors to overtreat the pain, often with opioids.

The over-prescribing  doctors, and unscrupulous drug companies led to the flooding of the market with opioid medication, leading to the opioid crisis that is now being addressed. There is difficulty in making scientific progress on an adversary that cannot be measured properly.

Some doctors, usually anesthesiologists, specialize in treating the chronic, severe pain that standard medical practice has been unable to diagnose or alleviate.

They may use nerve blocks, antidepressants and combinations of different pain medication. Judicious propofol has been used also not only for chronic undiagnosed pain, but also depression.

My wife had a pain problem which responded to a combination of two simple medications, motrin and acetaminophen. The suggested overall approach is to get the best medical care available to diagnose the cause of the pain, and ask for a pain management referral if a solution is not found.

More information can be found in the appended Wikipedia article.

—Dr. C.

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DR. C’S MEDICINE CABINET: ‘CELEBREX’ (NSAID)

NSAIDs are a  common pain medication. Younger people with no underlying diseases take them all the time for headaches, sprained ankles, and other injuries.

I have an underlying stomach problem that makes me want to minimize the gastrointestinal side effects when I need an NSAID medication, and for that reason I have 100 mg Celebrex, or celecoxib in my medicine cabinet.

I am fortunate not to have much severe pain, although I do have osteoarthritis in my hand, and infrequent abdominal pain from a small bowel surgery.

Celebrex is my magic bullet whenever I have pain from diverse causes such as in my legs; I do have a very active exercise program of an hour a day in the morning and a half an hour in the evening.

The Cox 2 inhibitor‘s were initially touted as being able to avoid the stomach problems caused by the non-selective  NSAIDs. Unfortunately, several of them, such as vioxx, were associated with more heart attacks, a 45% increase, and they were removed from the market . Celebrex was a survivor from this group, but it still tends to cause an increase in blood pressure.

Whenever you take any medication, it’s always a trade-off;  relief from the problem at hand, traded for the inevitable side effects. There is no powerful medication that has only the desired activity, and  most people are better off with a healthy lifestyle than taking medication.

Another advantage with medication avoidance is that when you take the medication, it tends to work a whole lot better. At least I have found that to be true, and celecoxib is my magic pain medication, which has salvaged countless nights of sleep.

—Dr. C.