India’s hidden health crisis is chronic pain



People need to realize that chronic pain is an illness in and of itself, and that prompt treatment is necessary to minimize the negative effects it has on patients’ functional capacity and mental health. According to Dr. Babita Ghai, Professor of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care at the PostGraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, “We witness patients suffering for years.”

Dr. Babita explains that chronic pain is frequently referred to as persistent pain that lasts past the time required for recovery or coexists with a chronic medical condition.

Chronic pain has emerged as one of the most unrecognized health concerns in the nation, prompting the observation of September as Pain Awareness Month. How can you tell if you have persistent pain? You require medical attention if it persists for three months or longer and goes beyond the typical healing period.

The population is aging and living longer, which is causing a rise in the number of people who have chronic pain. The commonest cases are those related to the lower back, neck, knees, shoulders, head, orofacial region, herpes, and cancer.

Chronic pain: what is it? What would you say about it?

Chronic pain is frequently defined as persistent pain that lasts longer than it should or that coexists with a chronic medical condition. It necessitates multimodal assessment and therapy due to its many causes. In general, any pain that persists longer than three months following tissue repair is referred to as chronic pain.

Can our lifestyle and diet influence chronic pain?

Yes. The main causes of many chronic aches include a sedentary lifestyle with poor posture, a lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating habits. In the past, chronic pain was typically connected with growing older and a condition of the human body known as degeneration, but today, many young people, including teenagers and children, report experiencing severe agony. It might quickly reach epidemic levels among the younger population.

Has the number of people visiting your pain clinics increased?

We had roughly 20–25 people per clinic and 1,500–2,000 patients annually when we first opened in 2009. This number has risen over the past few years to over 70–80 patients every clinic and 4,000–5,000 patients annually.

You claim that one of the most unrecognized health concerns facing our nation is chronic pain. Do you have any supporting data?

One of the biggest unrecognized health concerns, not just in our nation but all throughout the world, is chronic pain. If we’re talking about empirical proof, a survey carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 15 locations throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and the US revealed that 33% of the population suffers from chronic pain. According to national studies conducted in eight different cities, a staggering 13% of people in our country report having chronic pain. 

Nearly 50% of the Tricity population, according to our recently published community-based population study, experienced chronic low back pain. Because it has a significant influence on all facets of life, including the physical, mental, social, and economical ones, chronic pain is a problem that goes unrecognized. It explains why sufferers lose their jobs and need extended sick breaks. Patients with chronic pain are reportedly sadder and more worried.

Which medical disorders at your clinic are most frequently linked to chronic pain? Which age group is most impacted?

About 70% of individuals who see us complain of low back discomfort. In our clinic, we also treat patients with neck, knee, shoulder, postherpetic neuralgia, fibromyalgia, pelvic, cancer, and myofascial pain.

Previously we had the middle-aged and elderly population coming in but over the last few years, we have started seeing all age groups, from 13 to 90 coming in.

What are the symptoms and warning signs of chronic pain? Is there a way for folks to get help before their pain becomes chronic?

Unfortunately, as pain is a subjective symptom, it cannot be detected in scientific experiments. People need to recognize that chronic pain is an illness in and of itself and that early management is necessary to minimize the negative effects it has on patients’ functional abilities and mental health. Years of misery are visible in patients.

Why is chronic pain typically not adequately controlled and treated?

Globally, chronic pain is frequently disregarded, improperly diagnosed, and undertreated, but this is especially true in developing nations like India. Inadequate pain education and awareness, both among professionals and the general public, is one of the key causes. The management of chronic pain must be taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

There aren’t many specialized pain education courses in India because chronic pain is a specialty in and of itself. However, starting in 2020, the MBBS and MD curricula now include pain instruction. Now, a well-established chronic pain clinic is a necessity for any college to receive recognition for MD anesthesia. Its national implementation has not yet taken place. I’m not sure how many people are aware that the PGIMER OPD often has a pain clinic.

Why Doctor Babita?

The prestigious position of editorial board member of the Pain Research Forum, a publication of the International Association of the Study of Pain, was nominated and chosen by Dr. Babita Ghai, Professor, Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh. She has 23 years of post-MD teaching and research expertise in the areas of obstetric and pediatric anesthesia, regional anesthesia, pain management, and education and policy development. Her expertise is persistent low back pain.






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