The Pros and Cons of Pain Relief Medications
Chronic pain is unfortunately a hallmark symptom of scleroderma. Before my autoimmune journey started, I had chronic pain in my shoulder from injuries sustained in a car accident years earlier. I thought I had a “shoulder up” on living with pain.
Ba dum tss.
However, I had been unaware of how much pain an autoimmune disease can bring. Because systemic scleroderma affects multiple body systems, many parts of the body may hurt.
Pain levels vary between warriors, but many of us can adamantly say we hurt. The pain will drop me to my knees, and I’m a tough cookie. The joint pain can be breathtaking, literally. The stiffness makes even the smallest tasks a challenge. And don’t get me started on the pain of a flare!
I’ve tried managing my pain in various ways. Both cold and hot compresses work well for joint pain and swelling. I’ve also found that cold compresses are amazing for soothing skin symptoms like hives.
I have taken prednisone for flares, and though it helps, I dislike it. How many of you are with me on that one? The corticosteroid increases my appetite, causing me to eat like a running back who’s carb-loading before a big game. My jeans dislike this particular medication.
The nonopioid pain meds I’m prescribed, such as Celebrex (celecoxib) and gabapentin, do help to relieve pain. I take them as needed, and always as directed. It’s crucial to take all medications as prescribed and to consult a physician before stopping them.
Prescription opioids are another option for pain relief, but they have the potential to be highly addicting.
When someone takes opioids for a prolonged period, their body starts to build a tolerance, causing them to require higher dosages to achieve the same level of pain relief. This can create an addictive cycle. I have seen many people I love succumb to addictions. Still, many of us who suffer from scleroderma are willing to take that chance to ease the pain.
But as the opioid epidemic continues to sweep across the United States, getting a prescription for these medications can be a challenge. Doctors have become stricter, as the level of accountability regarding controlled substances is understandably at its highest.
Patients requesting opioid pain medications must undergo a strict review of their prescription history. Every state has its own prescription drug monitoring program, an electronic database that tracks controlled substance prescriptions. These programs are intended to hold physicians, pharmacies, and patients accountable, in hopes of saving countless lives from opioid addiction and overdose.
While I agree that it’s important to track opioid usage, the strict regulations leave many chronically ill patients in a pickle. Many are shamed for requesting these medications, and the requests are often denied.
I have only requested opioid pain medications twice, each time during a horrible flare. I know I appeared nervous, because I was. I felt like the physician was judging me.
To be fair, the physician ended up writing the prescription. I left the office feeling victorious because I had pushed back my fear and asked for something to help with the pain.
The opioids did help to calm my flares, but I was still frustrated. I didn’t want to simply reduce the pain and inflammation temporarily; I wanted to improve my quality of life.
Living in chronic pain was damaging my psyche. I was angry that I was still in so much pain, despite trying multiple relief methods, and I didn’t have an outlet for my emotions. Physicians and therapists often told me to exercise, thinking it would improve my physical and mental health, but it’s hard when the fatigue and pain are so overwhelming.
Chronic pain can affect your whole existence. It’s not just a physical condition, but can also lead to mental health issues. I desperately want physicians to acknowledge and understand the challenges of living with chronic pain, including finding effective forms of pain relief.
While I absolutely believe in the power of opioids for those with chronic pain, I worry about becoming physically or psychologically addicted to them. That’s why I eventually started researching natural pain relief options, including medical cannabis. I will share my experience with it in a future column.
Whatever type of pain relief you use, I don’t judge, as long as you’re using it safely and under a doctor’s supervision.
Remember, what works for one person might not work for others. Do your research and find what works best for you. Quality of life is the most important thing.
How do you relieve pain with scleroderma? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.