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Causes & diagnosis

Causes

There are a large number of factors that can increase your risk of chronic pain.[1] These factors can be environmental or biological and include:

  • genetics
  • having an injury
  • having surgery
  • stress or mood disorders
  • being overweight or obese
  • being female
  • smoking

Chronic pain is typically caused by an underlying condition, although with some neurological disorders, such as migraine disease and reflex sympathetic dystrophy, the experience of pain is the condition itself. The most common pain conditions are back pain, cancer pain, arthritis, and migraines and headache, but there are thousands of various conditions that can cause long-term pain.

Diagnosis

There are currently no mainstream tests that can objectively measure the intensity of pain or precisely pinpoint the location of pain. Clinicians typically rely on the patient’s report of their symptoms to determine diagnosis and treatment. That’s why clear communication, trust, and transparency between patients and their physicians is so important.

While pain cannot be objectively measured right now, some exciting advances being made with functional MRI or fMRI, which can objectively measure how pain affects sensory, affect, emotion, and motor components of brain activity.[2] While the accuracy and application of these findings are still being studied, the hope is that fMRI may lead to improved care.

Meanwhile, there are many tests that can be used to determine the cause of pain, such as electromyography, diagnostic injections, magnetic resonance imaging, or X-rays. Genetic testing can also pay a major role for conditions that are familial.

 

[1] http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/576473

[2] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1204471