Facts about headaches and chronic pain
- As many as 70 million Americans suffer from chronic pain (Source: New York Times)
- Approximately 28 million Americans battle chronic headaches and migraines (Source: American Headache Society)
- Chronic pain is more widespread than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined (Source: New York Times)
- Chronic pain costs an estimated $60 billion to $100 billion a year in medical fees, lost working days and working compensation. (Source: American Academy of Pain Medicine)
- The National Institutes of Heath spends only 1% of its funding on reserach focused primarily on pain.
- Many soldiers who experienced mild head trauma or a blast exposure while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are returning to the United States with headaches. (Source: Neurology magazine, 2007)
Five tips for talking to a chronic pain sufferer
- DON'T GIVE THEM UNSOLICITED ADVICE. If they ask for your opinion, feel free to give it. Otherwise, you can be certain they've already heard the same advice over and over again. It's patronizing when someone suggests an obvious treatment. After three years you think they haven't tried aspirin? It's presumptuous to assume you know more aobut someone's body and their experiences than they do.
- REMEMBER THAT MOST CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS JUST WANT TO FEEL VALIDATED. We yearn for empathy and for people to recognize our pain is real. Pain is an invisible illness, so most people don't recognize how debilitating it can be. If someone isn't moaning in pain or curled up in a ball on the floor, it's easy to forget tat they're in pain. Chronic pain patients are talented in covering up their symptoms because they want to live normal lives. Even if they aren't exhibiting symptoms, know they are still in pain. Instead of suggesting a cure, just listen to them, acknowledge their pain and let them know you care.
- TRY TO BE SENSITIVE TO THEIR NEEDS, BUT DON'T OVERDO IT. If you know a friend has lower back pain, offer her a pillow for her chair. If your friend is having a migraine, offer to dim the lights for him or offer him a place to lie down. Don't be overly insistent, though, because chronic pain patients don't want to feel babied. We appreciate help, but we also want to maintain as much independence as we can.
- NEVER TELL THEM "I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT," OR "I COULD NEVER DEAL WITH WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH." Yes, you could, even though you wouldn't want to, which is exactly what chronic pain patients have to do. When you tell someone you don't know how they do it, you're basically saying "I can't believe you haven't committed suicide yet." Pain isn't something you've chosen to deal with. It's not like a bake sale where you can back out at the last minute if you don't have time to bake cupcakes. The only way not to deal with chronic pain is to die. Chronic pain sufferers are at an increased risk for depressions and suicide, so don't push them off the edge. Instead, say something like, "I admire how well you've dealt with your illness" or "If I ever become ill, I hope I deal with it with as much grace and strength as you have." Both of these statements give the sufferer praise without implying something negative too.
- DON'T TELL THEM YOU HOPE THEIR PAIN GOES AWAY. The sentiment is well-intentioned, but hte sad fact is most chronic pain patients never find a cure. Telling them you hope they'll be cured is like telling an amputee that you hope their leg grows back. That would be fantastic, but it's probably not going to happen. Telling me you hope I'm cured only reminds me of the fact that I most likely never will be. Instead, wish me better health in general or tell me you hope I'll have a low pain day.
Author, blogger, headache sufferer and web designer, Jennette Fulda, who now also lives in the lovely state of NC :)