Doctors may fix broken bones and cure infections but too many do not consider a patient's pain when prescribing treatments.
Millions of Americans have untreated or under-treated pain. An estimated 40 percent of cancer patients are under-treated and one in four nursing home patients receive no treatment at all for daily pain.
But as CBS 2's Paul Moniz reports, new national regulations require doctors and nurses to pay more attention: beginning Jan. 1, hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient clinics will be required to inform patients about pain management.
Gladys Frydkowski suffers from a debilitating nerve syndrome called Relex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or RSD. It began after a fall that injured her left knee.
Now the pain is so severe in her left leg, both arms and hands that she can no longer work and it's even painful to turn the page of a book.
"Everything hurts," she says. "[It's like] feeling like someone is stabbing you to feeling like bolts of electricity are shooting at you or you're actually in flames!"
Amazingly, for fours years, after visits to 10 doctors, no one would prescribe pain medication.
"They didn't take it seriously," she says. "They couldn't believe that the problem they perceived I has that I was in that kind of pain."
Supporters say the new regulation sends a strong message to health providers.
"You have no choice, this is the standard of care," says Dr. Russell Portenoy, head of pain medicine at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center. "You must take pain seriously you must assess it you must offer patients pain management approaches."
Portenoy says the new regulations mean doctors and nurses will now ask patients to rate pain from one, being the mildest, to 10, being unbearable.
If you're hurting, they must treat you or risk losing their accreditation.
Dr. Portenoy says for too long doctors have been hesitant to prescribe narcotics to lessen pain fearing addictions and long term side effects but he says studies show the drugs are safe.
"We know these medications can be taken over the long term with no injury to the body," he says. "There's good evidence addiction is a wildly overestimated risk of these drugs."
Gladys, now Dr. Portenoy's patient, believes painkillers are keeping her alive. She takes 30 pills a day, including methadone, as well as pain patches. She's says her condition has improved considerably.
"From where I was three years ago, it's 100 percent different," Gladys says.
But she's still in pain.
Dr. Portenoy has now suggested she try a spinal stimulator which could be inserted under her skin to relieve pain.
Gladys vowed to keep fighting and praised the new regulations as a ray of hope.
"Finally, people are being given the opportunity to say, 'I'm hurting; do something about the pain!'"
Because many health care facilities may not be ready for these regulations, you need to be your own advocate.
If you're hospitalized be sure to remind your doctor about the regulations and if you're given the brush off, demand to see a supervisor or go to another facility. Pain may not be eliminated but it can be managed.
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