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August 19, 2009 > Are You Suffering from Chronic Pain?

Are You Suffering from Chronic Pain?

Washington Hospital Lunch and Learn Offers Women Ways to Manage It

If you are suffering from chronic pain, you know how difficult it can be to make it through each day. Just getting out of bed in the morning can be a struggle. But chronic pain not only affects your quality of life, it can actually cause your brain to atrophy.

"According to a Northwestern University study published in 2004, chronic pain can shrink the brain by as much as 11 percent and 1.3 cubic centimeters of gray matter are lost for every year of chronic pain," said Dr. Desmond Erasmus, a neurosurgeon who will offer tips for managing chronic pain at an upcoming Lunch and Learn Seminar at Washington Hospital. "There is a movement afoot in the pain community to educate doctors, nurses, patients, families and policymakers about these findings so everyone climbs on board to treat chronic pain and reduce brain atrophy."

"Women and Chronic Pain" is scheduled for noon on Thursday, August 27, at the Washington Hospital Women's Center, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To reserve a space, call (800) 963-7070.

Pain is subjective and defined by the person experiencing it. While pain is a normal sensation triggered by injury or disease, chronic pain persists, according to Erasmus. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months and even years.

"I will talk about some of the most common causes of pain in women, including fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis," he said. "I will also cover ways to treat and manage chronic pain."

Fibromyalgia is characterized by deep muscle pain, painful trigger points or tender points, and morning stiffness. Unlike the joint pain of osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia pain is felt over the entire body, according to Erasmus.

He said fibromyalgia is more common in women who are post menopausal. While the cause is unknown, Erasmus said after menopause, the release of a hormone that helps women tolerate pain slows down, which may contribute to fibromyalgia.

Interstitial cystitis, also called painful bladder syndrome, is characterized by a combination of uncomfortable bladder pressure as well as pain in the bladder and pelvis area, which can range from mild burning or discomfort to severe pain.

Controlling Pain

Chronic pain can also cause depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances, which can make it even harder to cope with the ongoing discomfort. Erasmus will discuss a number of ways to manage chronic pain, including medications, exercise and alternative options like acupuncture.

"If we can get pain levels under control, we can preserve brain function and improve quality of life," he said. "For most people, a combination of pain management techniques is most effective."

He will stress the importance of exercise in any pain management plan. Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins, which can have the same pain-reducing effect as opiates like morphine and codeine. Endorphins actually block the perception of pain and create an overall sense of wellbeing, according to Erasmus.

In addition, he said regular exercise helps people with chronic pain get a better night sleep and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

Erasmus said it is important for patients to work with their healthcare provider to develop a pain management plan that works best for them. The goal of any plan is not to eliminate pain completely, but to reduce the intensity and increase the ability to function, he added.

"Chronic pain takes a serious toll, but with the right treatment, you can get it under control and improve your quality of life," he said. "When pain is properly managed, you can get back to doing some of the things you enjoy."

To learn more about managing chronic pain, register for the upcoming Lunch and Learn at (800) 963-7070.

For more information about other Washington Hospital programs and services, visit

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