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Papers of the Week

Papers: 14 May 2022 - 20 May 2022

2022 May 13

J Pain

Is chronic pain a disease?


Ballantyne JC, Sullivan MD
J Pain. 2022 May 13.
PMID: 35577236.


It was not until the twentieth century that pain was considered a disease. Before that it was managed medically as a symptom. The motivations for declaring chronic pain a disease, whether of the body or of the brain, include increasing its legitimacy as clinical problem and research focus worthy of attention from healthcare and research organizations alike. But one problem with disease concepts is that having a disease favors medical solutions and tends to reduce patient participation. We argue that chronic pain, particularly chronic primary pain (recently designated a first tier pain diagnosis in ICD 11), is a learned state that is not intransigent even if it has biological correlates. Chronic pain is sometimes a symptom, and may sometimes be its own disease. But here we question the value of a disease focus for much of chronic pain for which patient involvement is essential, and which may need a much broader societal approach than is suggested by the disease designation. PERSPECTIVE: This article examines whether designating chronic pain a disease of the body or brain is helpful or harmful to patients. Can the disease designation help advance treatment, and is it needed to achieve future therapeutic breakthrough? Or does it make patients over-reliant on medical intervention and reduce their engagement in the process of recovery?