Talking to Your Doctor About Pain

What is Acute and Chronic Pain?

Acute pain usually begins suddenly and is the result of a clearly defined cause, such as an injury or surgery. Acute pain can be mild and last a moment, or severe and last for weeks or months. Chronic pain is usually associated with an underlying cause (such as arthritis or cancer) that lasts longer than six months and can continue after the injury or illness that caused the pain has gone away.

What You Can Do to Manage Pain

If you are trying to manage your pain, the National Safety Council (NSC) recommends getting answers to the following four questions when speaking with your doctor.

  1. Am I being prescribed an opioid?
  2. If so, is there a non-addictive alternative? Ask for an alternative if there is one. There are several alternative, non-opioid pain relievers. Studies show that the most effective medications for acute pain are not opioids, but ibuprofen and acetaminophen taken together. Take this card to your doctor or dentist and tell them you want the best treatment for acute pain (200 mg ibuprofen + 500mg acetaminophen taken together).
  3. If not, is a short-term prescription possible? Ask your physician to limit the dose and length of time you take the opioid medication.
  4. Do I have any medical conditions, mental health issues or a family history that could increase my risk? Be very clear and honest with your doctor about your medical history. There is no way to determine who will become addicted to a prescription painkiller, however, people with a history of substance abuse including alcohol or other drugs, or those who experience depression and anxiety, are more vulnerable. Tell your doctor about all other medications and drugs you take and about how much alcohol you consume.

You can also request an Opioid Warn-Me label from NSC. A Warn-Me Label on an insurance card or prescription card is a sign to doctors and pharmacists that you want answers to the above questions.

What to Expect from Your Doctor

Here is what you should expect from your doctor if considering opioids (based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • In most cases, acute pain is not severe enough to require opioids for more than three days. You should expect your doctor to prescribe the lowest effective dose, for the shortest period needed, when treating acute pain.
  • Avoid or delay prescribing opioids for chronic pain. Most of the time, opioids are not safe or effective for chronic pain that is not related to cancer or cancer treatments. Your doctor should help you consider other therapies or medications.
  • Work with you to create treatment goals based on how much pain relief you need in order to improve your ability to function.
  • Schedule regular check-ups while taking opioids with a follow-up appointment one-to-four-weeks after you start opioid therapy. If you continue taking opioids, you will need to see your doctor frequently, either with every prescription refill or every three months. This may include urine tests.
  • Lessen withdrawal when you stop taking opioids. Your doctor should help you slowly and safely taper off opioids to avoid severe side effects.

What to Do if You are Taking Opioids

According to the National Safety Council, individuals who are taking opioids should:

Take As Directed: If you take an opioid prescription painkiller, over time you will feel less of the effect and need more of the medication. Do not use more without talking to your doctor. The safest use of these medications is generally at the lowest possible dose for the shortest duration. Never mix opioid medications with alcohol, sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs or other pain relievers.

Store Securely: Since opioids are highly abused and can be taken from unsecure locations, learn how to safely store these medications.

Don’t Share Your Medications: Never share any medication your doctor has prescribed with family members, co-workers or anyone else. You may be endangering someone’s life or enabling someone’s dependency or addiction.

Don’t Hang On to Old Prescriptions: Always safely dispose of medications once you have stopped taking them. View a list of locations in and around DuPage County where you can safely drop off your unused medications for safe disposal.

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