Why backache can be deadly

iStock

Suffering from chronic pain such as backache can be debilitating. It affects one's quality of life, and many patients complain about the toll it takes on their general well-being.

However, few people realise that chronic pain can be fatal. Research from the University of Pennsylvania shows there is a link between chronic pain and suicide and depression.

“There is a 2, 5 to 10 times increase in anxiety or major depression in patients with pain,” says Dr Anusha Lachman, child and adolescent psychiatrist from Stellenbosch University.

“Its unwelcome presence and debilitating impact can considerably increase the risk of suicide among people living with it.”

Several large-scale epidemiological surveys have now established that the presence of any condition involving pain doubles the risk of suicide in the general population.

Read: Understanding chronic pain

Less focus on psychological symptoms

According to Lachman doctors tend to focus on treating the physical pain and are less likely to consider psychological treatments.

“Screening for depression is well established in primary care for patients with a long-term physical health condition. However, while there are a number of screening tools for pain, most tend to be specific to particular types of pain. Finding validated screening tools that simultaneously screen patients for both depression and pain is rare,” she told Health24.

Depression might also go undetected, because it shares symptoms with chronic pain. Sleep disturbance, weight and appetite changes and changes in libido or energy can occur in both conditions.

“The presence of chronic pain appears to increase the resistance of depression to treatment,” says Lachman. “It is known that there are sets of beliefs held by patients about pain regarding its severity, predictability and interference in daily life. Negative distortions of these conditions bear resemblance to the cognitive duo of depression: a negative sense of the future and the environment.”

Read: Electrical stimulation may ease lower back pain

Risk factors for suicide

Patients suffering from chronic pain should be aware of the risk factors for depression, and should follow up with a psychologist or psychiatrist if they are uncertain about what their symptoms may indicate. Risk factors include:  

  • A family history of suicide
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • A history of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Impulsive or aggressive behaviours
  • Losses such as work, family or social roles
  • Resistance to seeking help for fear of stigma

Read more:

Suicide checklist

Migraine-sufferers at increased risk of suicide or OD

The link between PMS, depression and suicidal thoughts

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
32% - 9433 votes
No
68% - 19965 votes
Vote