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How to describe pain

It is often difficult to describe pain, because everyone reacts so differently to it. For example, a person suffering with intense pain may bear it better than someone with a lower level of tolerance does. Because each person's reaction varies, pain must be measured indirectly, based upon information offered by the pain sufferer. This is why it is important to describe pain to your physician as clearly as possible. In order to do that, you must know how to show where it hurts and correctly describe the intensity, duration and severity of your pain.

The main types of information that are useful for a doctor are:

  • How and when the pain started. Give details on how long the pain has persisted, what caused it (following what kind of event) and how it started (gradually or suddenly).
  • The location of the pain. Show the point where it hurts or areas where the pain travels.
  • Pain characteristics. Describe the duration, frequency, intensity (mild, moderate, intense, severe, etc.) and quality of the pain (continuous, intermittent, throbbing, etc.). Describing pain is not easy. This is why a pain rating scale is a useful evaluation technique.
  • Associated symptoms. Tell your doctor whether other symptoms (sluggishness, fatigue, fever, etc.) are present.
  • Pain response to activities. Describe activities that increase the pain and also those that relieve it.
  • What improves or worsens the pain. Describe situations that make your pain better or worse. These can include changes in weather conditions, living or working environment, lifestyle, etc.).

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