Chronic and acute pain differ significantly. The last is a terrible feeling of discomfort that you can’t ignore when it begins. It is a signal sent by the body to alert you that there is something wrong. Acute pain most often occurs suddenly and gradually subsides, making it different from chronic pain. The last can persist for months or even throughout a lifetime.
Causes of acute pain
Often the cause of acute pain is inflammation or damage to tissues of the body. Sources can include:
- Cuts and scrapes
- Insect stings
- Broken bones
- Gallbladder, appendix, or colon inflammation
How do we react to acute pain?
At the onset of acute pain, you can usually identify its source and respond by taking steps to minimize further injury. Many times, this response is a reflexive action of the body. For example, if you touch a hot surface, you immediately pull your hand back before realizing what has happened.
Acute pain is stressful for the body. When you experience it, chemicals are released to help your body respond quickly. These are sometimes called the “fight or flight” hormones—adrenaline and norepinephrine. The initial effects of these chemicals are helpful, but having consistently high levels of these substances can have adverse health impacts. When you have acute pain, your body also releases endorphins to help provide pain relief.
Acute and chronic pain differences
Words used to describe acute pain include stinging, burning, sharp, or knife-like. In contrast, people usually define chronic pain as aching or dull, but it can also be very severe. Therefore, the person can easily distinguish between acute and chronic pain. However, episodes of acute pain characterize some chronic illnesses and disorders. Moreover, If left without proper management, acute pain can lead to chronic pain.
Acute pain diagnosis
When you experience acute pain, your body responds emotionally and physically. Therefore, people react to such sensations in many different ways. Unlike bleeding or swelling, the amount of acute pain a person has cannot be easily measured by others. Therefore, you need to be honest about your feelings. It is essential because it is difficult for your doctor or other healthcare providers to estimate how much acute pain you are experiencing. Hurting or having pain is not a sign of weakness or a lack of masculinity. Unless your medical practitioner knows where and how much you are hurting, the healthcare provider cannot diagnose the condition and treat you appropriately.
Acute pain treatment
To treat acute pain, your doctor will first try to identify what is causing your discomfort and prescribe an appropriate treatment to resolve the underlying condition. When acute pain is mild to moderate in intensity, acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually the first medications recommended for relief. These drugs are available without a prescription. Which one your doctor suggests depends on what is causing the acute pain and what other medical conditions you have.
Generally, doctors don’t recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications for people who have certain risk factors, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Cardiovascular disease
When acute pain is more severe, ranging from mild to moderate, drugs that target different pain pathways may be used, such as acetaminophen with codeine. Severe pain may require strong narcotic pain relievers, such as opioids. However, your physician may prescribe narcotic medications for only a short time and in limited amounts because these drugs carry a potential for misuse and addiction.
Acute pain: how widespread is it?
People often seek treatment for acute pain, a medical problem that is common in adults. For example, a recent survey revealed that 29% of adults surveyed had low back pain, almost 20% experienced a severe headache or a migraine, and 15% had pain in their neck. These results present data for over three months. Moreover, pain relievers are the medications most often newly prescribed or renewed by physicians.